(image courtesy of Democracy Now!)
Erica Garner, just age 27, died over the weekend due to complications from the birth of her son Eric from 4 months ago. Many of us followed Erica in her plight for justice against police brutality because of her dad, Eric Garner, who was essentially choked to death in 2014. As NPR reported, Erica sported a sweatshirt “I Can’t Breathe”, her father’s last words which became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement. She arranged weekly “die-ins” on the sidewalk in front of a beauty supply store in Staten Island, where the incident took place.
As we know, a grand jury did not indict any officers in Eric Garner’s death, which set off more protests across the country. The coroner’s report lists his death as a homicide, but no officer has ever been charged in the case. However, the city of New York settled with his family for $5.9 million in 2015.
While many BLM mothers ended up supported Clinton in the primaries of 2016, Erica was one of the few who got behind Bernie Sanders in 2015. Many of us were moved by this campaign video she appeared in:
In today’s Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi wrote a memoriam to activist Erica. I got this from RSN, rather than copying from RS itself. C-SPAN recently re-ran Taibbi’s booktalk from his recent work, “I Can’t Breathe”. I’ll post the link to the video in the comments section.
Goodbye Erica Garner…In a life full of tragedy, she died too soon
Erica was a natural storyteller and had a tremendous eye for little details. She talked about an unforgettable moment, not long before her father’s death, in which Eric came over to Brooklyn for his granddaughter Alyssa’s birthday party.
While the rest of the family celebrated and talked in the park, Erica soon noticed that father and granddaughter had been gone for some time. She got up and found Eric pushing Alyssa on a swing. He had been doing it for more than an hour.
“Are you OK?” she asked.
“I’m fine,” he said, smiling.
She walked away and turned her head to see him still pushing the swing, not even noticing his daughter.
She remembered that moment as the last time she saw her father truly happy. This was important because in that summer of 2014, she could tell something was wrong in her father’s life.
When she asked him how he was doing that summer, he would lie to her and not tell her about problems he was having both at home and on the street, where he was more and more often tangling with police and with others (he had been robbed and beaten, among other things). And she could tell his health was failing, though he lied about that, too.
She noticed, for instance, that his diabetes had worsened considerably, that he had trouble staying on his feet. “The thing about it is that my father suffered,” she said.
That same summer, Erica – a young single mother struggling to make ends meet – came to Staten Island to have a frank talk with her father. There, in the front seat of his car, she confessed to her father that she was thinking of selling drugs. She needed the money, she said, and besides, hadn’t he done it?
Eric Garner, for all his other problems, never wavered on this issue. He told his daughter that she had options he hadn’t had, that what she was considering was the cynical and easy way out, and that she was better than that. He understood she was having a hard time with money, and would try to help, he said. But he didn’t want to hear any more talk of that sort.
She put it out of her mind.
This is someone who didn’t give in.
Throughout it all, she remained focused on what she saw as the last realistic shot at justice for her father, the possibility of a federal civil rights prosecution. Through December there continued to be rumors about a federal grand jury that was still taking witness statements in the case. Erica had been led to expect news on that front, one way or the other, by the New Year.
Then Taibbi adds an activist rejoiner:
I feel sure that the first thing she would want mourners to do this week would be to somehow place pressure on the federal government to take action in her father’s case, or to at least not let the possibility of such a prosecution be forgotten.
I had the honor of getting to know Erica and I was inspired by the commitment she made working towards a more just world for her children and future generations. She was a fighter for justice and will not be forgotten.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) December 30, 2017