Marine veteran kneels at Utah capitol with 'I can't breathe' taped over mouth till his shoes start melting

As temperatures soared to 99 degrees Fahrenheit, the two-time Purple Heart recipient stood as a lone protester without water


                            Marine veteran kneels at Utah capitol with 'I can't breathe' taped over mouth till his shoes start melting
(Getty Images)

A US Marine veteran, Todd Winn, protested against police brutality in a powerful statement on Friday, June 5, as he stood alone, dressed in full uniform in front of the Utah State Capitol for over three hours as the temperature rose. The two-time Purple Heart recipient stood in complete silence with black tape across his mouth and the words "I can't breathe" written across it.

Winn also held a sign in one of his hands as he stood in front of the State Capitol. It read: "Justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, and countless others." The veteran knelt in the soaring heat for so long that the heels of his shoes melted off. Winn, however, continued his silent protest and refused any water, barely moving except to take a knee and stand at attention when the temperatures reached 99 degrees Fahrenheit.

You can see the photos here.

Photographer Robin Pendergrast, who captured the powerful movement, said: "I saw the tape over his mouth and I said, 'Oh my god, this is unbelievable.' I knew that the statement he was making was pretty special for a lot of people," he told Insider.com. Pendergrast added that he had been driving by the Capitol to see if any demonstrators had gathered there for a protest that afternoon when he saw Winn standing alone protesting.

"I see this single blue figure, standing in front of the opening panel to the Capitol, with a homemade banner on a stick," Pendergrast recalled. "I had to get out and support him," Pendergrast said. "Immediately, the respect was there." Pictures of the veteran were shared on Reddit and quickly became viral with thousands sharing and commenting.

A protester holds a sign reading 'I Can't Breathe' outside the District Attorney's office during a peaceful demonstration over George Floyd’s death in Los Angeles, California (Getty Images)

Winn also commented on one of the pictures as he explained why he went to the State Capitol to protest. "I deliberately chose to treat this as an extended moment of silence, because the voices of so many non-whites are often not heard," he wrote. "I do not consider this a political issue, I consider it a human issue, and a global one at that." In 2005, the Marine Corps veteran had been wounded by a roadside bomb while serving in Iraq.

The veteran said that he did coordinate with any group to plan the protest and was not attempting to "espouse any political ideology" with it, other than "the inalienable rights and protections all Americans should expect to be provided."

"I swore to uphold those rights," Winn added. "And I feel this is one way of doing so by speaking out against discrimination and failed training, procedure, and oversight." 

The Marine veteran said that he hoped that his little contribution to the bigger Black Lives Matter movement would be "seen" by the people who "tune out" the protesters. 

"I hope it will be seen by individuals who would normally tune out the protesters and allow them to — at least for a moment ⁠— stop and consider what is really being asked for here," he wrote.  "Equality, justice, fairness. The right to assemble. The right to be free from discrimination no matter the color of your skin. The right not to fear the police forces whose duty is to protect and serve communities. These should not be partisan political issues, but globally valid concerns we all should be willing to support together." 

The nationwide protests against police brutality began shortly before four Minneapolis police officers allegedly involved in Floyd's brutal death were fired on May 26 after a video of the incident went viral on social media. The footage showed Floyd pleading with officers as one of them, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck. The 46-year-old told them to let him stand because he could not breathe. The clip showed Floyd pleading with the officer to allow him to breathe and a few minutes later he became unconscious. Floyd's death has sparked massive protests and unrest in Minneapolis and across the country. Chauvin was arrested shortly after and charged with second-degree murder.

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