We Can’t Breathe

Editor's Note:

John Vasquez was 16 years old when he was sentenced to life in prison. He was released through AB 260 through a Youth Offender Parole Hearing. He wrote this powerful poem for a recent rally in Oakland.

We Can’t Breathe

Suffocation, asphyxiation

We can’t breathe, gentrification

Mass incarceration, police brutality

Black and Brown people, it’s our reality

Hypersegregation, ice deportation

Human rights denied, deprivation

We will not take it any longer

Together we are stronger

We are the majority 

Racial equity is our priority

Capitalism is the culprit

Preach it from the pulpit

Fund our schools, decarcerate

Free our people, liberate

Break the chains of juridical oppression

Raise your voice, political expression

Press knees on our necks, we won’t be silenced

No justice, no peace, we’re sick of state violence

It’s more than just a few bad apples, the whole tree is rotten

Structural racism, the entire system is the problem

COVID-19 is not to blame

For the suffering we see today

Job insecurity, economic disparities

We stand in solidarity, united in similarities

We demand total transformation

Hear our frustration, feel the pulsation

One heart, one mind, one voice

Striking back is our only choice

Defund the police, take their power

Reinvest in our community, now is the hour

All hands on deck, we demand respect

And won’t settle for anything less

We can’t breathe when they marginalize us, criminalize us

We can’t breathe when they spend $81,000 a year to incarcerate my brother

Break the heart of my mother

When they spend less than $12,000 per student we all suffer

We can’t breathe when police terrorize our communities

And treat us with indignities

We can’t breathe because we are not free

This is why we fight back 

We are under attack

From a racist and class-based system

We need to reach for the stars

Dream beyond bars

And only then can we breathe


John was inspired to write this because this is the time for change, there have been many George Floyds locally. It was an awakening for this movement. 
John works with CURYJ, among other things as a participatory defense organizer. He works with families who are impacted by the criminal justice system and leads by his personal experience to change the landscape of power in the judicial system.  

Related Media:
The Ballad of George Floyd & Poems to Inspire the Movement
To the City of San Jose: Divest from Police and Invest in Community
Tear & Shut This Shit Down By Any Means Necessary