Pussy Riot releases first English-language song, titled “I Can’t Breathe”

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Two members of the Russian protest group and feminist punk rock band Pussy Riot have released their first song in English, titled “I Can’t Breathe” in memory of police brutality victim Eric Garner.

A statement released along with the video reads in part, “Pussy Riot’s first song in English is dedicated to Eric Garner and the words he repeated eleven times before his death. This song is for Eric and for all those from Russia to America and around the globe who suffer from state terror – killed, choked, perished because of war and state sponsored violence of all kinds – for political prisoners and those on the streets fighting for change. We stand in solidarity.”

One of the song’s official music videos (there are two) depicts Pussy Riot members Masha Alyokhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova being buried alive in a shallow grave. According to the official description, the blue camouflage they are wearing is “the Russian riot police uniforms that are worn during the violent clashes of police and the protesters fighting for change in Russia.”

Both women’s uniforms bear a patch reading OMOH—the actual acronym for the Отряд мобильный особого назначения, or Special Purpose Mobile Unit.

Another piece of symbolism seen in the video is an empty package of cigarettes lying on the ground—in part a reference to the reason Garner was arrested, unlawfully selling loose cigarettes. The video’s description states that the brand, “Russian Spring,” is a real one, and the term is also one “used by those who are in love with Russia’s aggressive militant actions in Ukraine,” such as its recent takeover of Crimea.

In contrast to the visuals, the song’s lyrics directly reference some of the violent clashes between police and protesters that have taken place in the US, most notably after the recent deaths of Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and other people of color. The song includes the lines, “It’s getting tight in New York City / I need to catch my breath.”

The video ends with New York punk rocker Richard Hell reading a transcript of Garner’s final words, which he concludes by repeating “I can’t breathe”—just as Garner did, shortly before he suffocated to death in a police officer’s chokehold.

The song’s description also notes that it was recorded “in New York in December 2014 during the protests against police brutality,” after a grand jury declined to hold NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo accountable for Garner’s death.

A second version of the video plays the song over footage of protests and memorials in Staten Island, NY, capturing “a community in mourning…at the [site]where Garner took his last breath.”

Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova were arrested for “hooliganism” during a concert at the Russian Orthodox cathedral in 2012 and served nearly two years before being released under Russia’s amnesty law. Just a few months later, they were arrested again during a gay rights protest in Sochi, but released the same day.

429Magazine

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