“We've Known What Police Brutality Feels Like”: Pussy Riot’s Tribute Song to Eric Garner

In a new music video, two members from Russian punk band Pussy Riot get dirt shoveled over their faces and are buried alive. It's powerful and disturbing to watch.

The Russian punk music and protest band Pussy Riot released a new song this week, their first in English, called “I Can’t Breathe.” The song was inspired by the band members’ participation in protests against police violence in New York (the title references the final words spoken by Eric Garner as he was choked to death by a New York City police officer).

“We’ve known, on our own skin, what police brutality feels like.”

The song’s release is accompanied by a video that features two members of the group, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, being buried alive. It’s a powerful and disturbing video to experience. 

“It’s getting dark in New York City,” the song goes, as the women, dressed in military uniforms, lie in the earth and have dirt shoveled over their faces. Eventually, the women are buried, and a dramatization of Eric Garner pleading for his life is heard over the music.

A press release accompanying the video makes the band’s intentions clear:

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.

Pussy Riot is known for organizing guerilla protests around issues of government suppression, LGBT rights, and feminism. They rose to international fame in 2012, after three members were arrested in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior while protesting President Vladimir Putin and his ties with the Russian Orthodox Church. They were held without bail for over four months as they awaited trial, which garnered international attention from media and human rights organizations around the world. All three women were eventually convicted of hooliganism and sentenced to more than a year in prison (one member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, had her sentence suspended and was released later in 2012).

It’s a powerful and disturbing video to experience.

The band also attempted to stage a protest at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, but were repeatedly met with opposition and eventually beaten in public by uniformed Cossacks providing security at the Olympic games.

In an email interview with Buzzfeed, Pussy Riot connected the suppression of dissenters in Russia with the realities of police violence in the United States, as well as the violence they have experienced firsthand. “We’ve known, on our own skin, what police brutality feels like,” Pussy Riot told Buzzfeed. “And we can’t be silent on this issue.”