Additional reporting by NATASHA ASHBY
It is one year later. Eric Garner, locked in a chokehold by officer Daniel Pantaleo, died on video.
Thousands of protesters took over the New York City streets last summer. The “BlackLivesMatter” hashtag spurred chants and rallies across the city, the nation and the world.
And yet, nothing much has changed in police accountability and community relations.
For the Garner family, the issue on the table is justice, and not the $5.9 million settlement offered by City Comptroller Scott Stringer Monday. The family had sought $75 million.
Almost a year to the day that Garner died as a result of the chokehold and assault by NYPD officers on Staten Island, the city announced the settlement, which drew a large media contingent to the National Action Network Tuesday morning.
“Money is not justice,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said, surrounded by members of the Garner family, Garner’s widow, Esaw; his children Eric, Erica and Emerald; and his mother, Gwen Carr. “Money is the recognition of the loss of the family. But it does not deal with the criminal and the other wrongs done to this family.”
On Monday, according to accounts from those familiar with the case, seven members of the Garner family signed the two-page release form. Because this settlement was without a trial, it does not specify how the money will be divided among the members, including a child Garner had with another woman.
The Garner family, Sharpton continued, began their commitment for justice, not only for their personal loss but also for others who have been denied justice. “This was an agreement [the family] made almost a year ago and that’s the agreement we reiterate today,” Sharpton said.
None of the lawyers for the family, particularly Jonathan Moore, were at the press conference. “We did not have them on the platform because this is about the family and justice, not about a breakdown of the lawsuit,” Sharpton explained.
After thanking the attorneys and NAN, Esaw Garner reflected on what her life is like without her husband. “Now, I have no one but my children, and I’m alone to deal with this the rest of my life,” she said. “But I want to thank all of you for your support as we continue to fight for justice.”
Carr said she is still waiting for the federal government to come and take the case. “We’ve been asking them for a whole year because … we didn’t receive justice from the grand jury, even though my son said he couldn’t breathe eleven times,” she said. “They chose not to indict, so where is the justice?”
Erica Garner and Emerald Snipes-Garner spoke, and each of them expressed the sadness of their lives without their father. “No amount of money is going to bring my father back,” Erica Garner said. “So we are going to continue to fight for justice.”
“We are not going to forget what happened to Ramarley Graham, or Sean Bell or Amadou Diallo,” said Snipes-Garner, citing the names of other victims killed by the police. She said that’s why they are calling the series of protest rallies over the week “Lest We Forget.”
Stringer was not at the press conference, but earlier his office released a statement about the settlement. “Following a judicious review of the claim and facts of this case, my office was able to reach a settlement with the estate of Eric Garner that is in the best interests of all parties.” The settlement is a record deal for a settlement before trial. Abner Louima, who was sodomized by police officers in 1997, received $8.7 million from the city after a trial.
“We are all familiar with the events that led to the death of Eric Garner and the extraordinary impact his passing has had on our city and our nation,” Stringer added. “It forced us to examine the state of race relations, and the relationship between our police force and the people they serve. While we cannot discuss the details of this settlement, and the city has not admitted liability, I believe that we have reached an agreement that acknowledges the tragic nature of Mr. Garner’s death while balancing my office’s fiscal responsibility to the city.”
Because Sharpton and the family took no questions at the press conference, it was not possible to get any details about the accepted settlement. It is clear that they will continue to press for justice, insisting that it’s not about the money.
According to several reports, the agreement with the city does not cover the private hospital that sent the first responders, although one report says that a settlement was made but no details are available.
Moore said the mission was far from completion. “But at least it brings a measure of justice to the family,” he told the press.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said he hoped the family “could find peace and finality.”
The finality may be delayed until justice arrives.
“It is sad that people get away with murder, especially by those who are supposed to be protecting us,” Eric Garner’s sister Ellisha Flagg told the Amsterdam News in reference to Pantaleo. “For the jury not to see that this was wrong is just sickening. So we are still out here doing what we have to do fighting for justice. Nobody’s worried about a settlement. Nobody’s worried about who can do whatever for us because we always took care of ourselves. We are going to make sure that we get justice for Eric, because he is not here any more, so we have to do it for him.”
In the wake of Garner’s death, nationwide a number of other police-involved deaths of unarmed Black people have occurred, including Tamir Rice, Walter Scott and Freddie Gray.
Six Baltimore police officers have been brought up on murder charges in the Freddie Gray killing, which set Baltimore ablaze. The Tamir Rice case has yet to be presented to a grand jury.
Former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager, who shot Walter Scott in the back, has been charged with murder and now resides in the same jail as “Charleston Nine” killer Dylan Roof.
In New York, though, around this time last year, the then Staten Island D.A. Daniel Donovan’s grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo.
Family members and social justice activists have slammed the lack of justice and the failure to address issues in the NYPD, which they say lead to racial profiling and fatalities.
Snipes-Garner, 23, is still heartbroken by her father’s death. In an exclusive interview with the Amsterdam News, the mother of 3-year-old Kaylee, revealed, “Father was strict, an old-school parent. Always had old sayings. He was funny, always liked to joke. We fought like cats and dogs, but loved really hard. I was his baby girl. He always catered to his kids. We went to the circus every year, family reunions, did things together as a family. He was around our whole life. Some people aren’t as fortunate to have their father in their life … I wake up thinking I’m in a dream. You never think you’re going to lose your parent. That’s not how it’s supposed to go. But it gets better with time.”
Snipes-Garner added that with regards to the movement to get justice and police accountability, her father “would be very proud that we’re not letting people forget. Don’t forget who Eric Garner is. We need to move as a unit to make change. When you see a chain link, when it’s broken, the chain is useless on either side. We have to come together, work together and move forward.”
A number of events this weekend will commemorate Garner:
• Friday, July 17, at the House of the Lord Church, 401 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn, 7:30 p.m, the Rev. Herbert Daughtry hosts the mothers and families of police-killing victims Gwen Carr, Leslie McFadden, Sybrina Fulton and others.
• Harlem’s Canaan Baptist Church of Christ, 132 W. 116th St., will host a vigil for Garner hosted by his family, 7:30 p.m.
• Saturday, July 18, the family will host the first ever Remembrance Day Peace March, formerly the annual family barbecue, in Coney Island, from Stillwell Avenue to West 32nd Street on First Avenue, 10 a.m.
• Sharpton and a coalition of community activists and unions will rally and take a petition to the U.S. Federal Courthouse Eastern District, 225 Cadman Plaza at Tillary Street, Brooklyn, to demand expedited federal investigations in Garner and Graham’s killings and call for justice system reform and police accountability,12:30 p.m.
For more information, visit www.garnerwayfoundation.com and www.thisstopstoday.org.