Nickelodeon went off the air on Tuesday night to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement by airing a powerful tribute to George Floyd, a Black man who died last week in Minneapolis, Minn., after a white police officer knelt on his neck.
The American channel, along with other Viacom networks MTV and VH1, aired a black screen with the words “I can’t breathe” flashing in and out in time with the sound of heavy breathing.
The video lasted eight minutes and 46 seconds — the same amount of time a police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck, according to a statement from prosecutors. An autopsy commissioned by Floyd’s family found he died of asphyxiation.
Former police officer Derek Chauvin has since been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Three other police officers involved in the May 25 incident were fired, too, but have not been charged.
The channel announced the tribute on Instagram, writing: “You have the right to be seen, heard and respected as a citizen of the world.
“You have the right to be protected from harm, injustice and hatred,” it continued. “You have the right to your opinions and feelings, even if others don’t agree with them.”
The tribute received some negative feedback from people claiming it was too much for a children’s channel, but other commenters offered counter-arguments on social media.
Twitter user @BoozyBadger shared a photo of a public Facebook conversation between a Facebook user and Nickelodeon in which the commenter wrote: “This is not the right platform for this at all. The average age of the children that watch your channel are under the age of 12 and if anything all your (sic) doing is scaring children.”
In the screenshot, Nickelodeon responded: “Unfortunately, some kids live in fear every day. It’s our job to use our platform to make sure their voices are heard and their stories are told.”
On Twitter, @BoozyBadger noted that Tamir Rice, a Black boy in Cleveland, Ohio, was 12 years old when he was fatally shot by a police officer in 2014 while playing with a toy gun in a playground.
“Those of you saying this scared your children are wrong,” another Twitter user wrote. “There’s far scarier things on TV (e.g., the news). Your problem with this is the fact that your kids are now asking questions you don’t want/know to answer.”
Another social media user commended the channel, writing: “In 2020, they have proven that they aren’t afraid to side publicly (with) what is right.”
“I’m in tears (right now),” another person wrote. “This is so powerful. Shoutout to Nickelodeon for raising awareness.”