We first learned about the Garner family when hearing about Eric Garners death. Eric was brutally murdered by police on July 17th, 2014 for allegedly selling a pack of cigarettes. This was a case that further propelled the cause for the Black Lives Matter movement, particularly because of how the case was handled. Jo Pantaleo is one of the worst police officers I have ever read about. Not only were all charges dropped against him almost immediately, but he also tried to sue the family, and is now suing to get his job back. It is one of the most overt acts of no remorse we have seen in this decade. Eric’s slowed breaths of I can’t breathe echoed through me and many others, it was the first time I had a physical reaction when watching a video. I started to sweat and my heart was beating so fast along with this big lump in my throat that wouldn’t go away, I’m sure you know the one. I often wonder how many others feel the same, and is it only because I visualise my dad and his attack every time I see one of these videos.
Eric will be remembered for his death and no doubt his arrest record, but I want to talk about who he was as a person. We often forget that these people of course propel our movement, but they also need to be humanised Let’s talk about the good stuff. Eric used to work as the New York Department of Parks and Recreation as a horticulturalist. He had nicknames like ““Big E”” and is described by those that know him as a gentle giant. He also had worked as a mechanic, and his mother was a subway operator. Actual testimonies of people that knew him are all wonderful. He had 6 children and was married to his wife for twenty years. I know it is easy to read a headline that is packaged up neatly as fact, this is how news operates, but we must remember everything is not black and white. We as people must do our own research and have our own opinions not shaped by reports and articles. Eric was harassed by police and they did unspeakable things to him before that fateful day, but I hope I honour him as that friendly gentle giant, and will forever keep his good memory alive.
Erica Garner, daughter of Eric was first introduced to us after her father’s death. Erica would protest the streets of Brooklyn, New York every Tuesday and Thursday after 6pm without fail, and organised “die-ins”, even though the New York City Police Department applied ample amounts of pressure to try and stop her. They tried to stop protesters travelling, barricaded the Supreme Court steps and even followed her in unmarked cars. Her life’s mission was for the world to never forget her father and who he was, no matter the risk. Erica was well respected by many, because even though she called herself an activist and fought for justice, she spoke so eloquently and politically about unity, that it didn’t come from a place of anger that so many expected. Erica even contemplated a run for congress in 2016, before submitting her support to Bernie Sanders instead, I think that is testament to her dedication to bettering New York. Erica often referred to her fight for social justice her calling in life, and that she was wandering aimlessly before all of this happened. This is why she will always be named as one of the most influential activists in the Black Lives Matter Movement. I know personally she is one of the most inspirational figures in my life, and I too share that same dedication for my father’s story.
Erica Garner: ‘Mural by Vince Ballentine for Projectivity Group’.