For many viewers, seeing Eric Harris being fatally shot on camera by Oklahoma authorities was less shocking than hearing what came afterward.
“F— your breath,” an officer yells after a panicked Harris screams that he’s been shot and is losing his breath.
Authorities have said that the phrase was a response to a high-stress situation and argued that — even though officers are directly responding to Harris — they heard neither the gunshot nor the 44-year-old screaming that he’d been shot, according to CNN.
“They did not know that he was shot at this time,” Capt. Bill McKelvey of the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office told CNN. “They had audio exclusion. They was at a point where they couldn’t hear. They didn’t even hear the gunshot go off. The officers did not know that Mr. Harris had been shot.”
But for many observers, the phrase was not only appalling but painfully symbolic — a callous utterance that sounded like a tailor-made response to a nation of demonstrators who have spent months protesting police brutality by chanting Eric Garner’s final, haunting words: “I can’t breathe.” Garner was killed after being held in a chokehold by New York police last summer.
There is, of course, no more elemental human right than the right to breathe. To squelch it — via a chokehold or a perceived denial of medical care — is, for many, the height of inhumanity.
In the 48 hours since video of Harris’s April 2 shooting was released, many of those people turned to Twitter to voice outrage about the unidentified officer’s words.
I am a Black woman with asthma. I cannot even engage with "f–k your breath" as something that one human being says to another human.
— Ebony Elizabeth (@Ebonyteach) April 13, 2015
Imagine if the last words you ever heard were "F*ck your breath" said by a callous man holding a gun and holding you down.#EricHarris
— My Daughter's Army (@MyDaughtersArmy) April 12, 2015
— Andrea for Obama (@reallyandrea) April 13, 2015
"F*ck your breath" is the new "I can't breathe." Such a sick "law and order" society we've become. #EricHarris
— Russell Drew (@RussOnPolitics) April 12, 2015
— Ayala Maurer-Prager (@A_MaurerPrager) April 12, 2015
The unimaginable cruelty of a world where a cop says "f*ck your breath" as you lay dying. Have mercy, God.
— Yolanda Pierce (@YNPierce) April 12, 2015
A cop shoots a man mortally wounding him saying "F*ck Your Breath" That cop is a Hit Man not a public servant! #EricHarris
— Tim Black ™ (@TimBartender) April 12, 2015
— Jake from Phat Farm (@RJsArrival) April 12, 2015
Hollow. I don't have words for #EricHarris. My words won't form. His last words – and his murderers' vile answers – keep ringing in my ear.
— Ava DuVernay (@AVAETC) April 12, 2015
There's not much more barbaric than continuing to physically/mentally terrorize someone as they lay dying, screaming in fear.#EricHarris
— Jesse Benn (@JesseBenn) April 12, 2015
"F*ck your breath" is the experience.
— StLnNYC (@StLnNYC) April 13, 2015