“I’m feeling a little overwhelmed, kind of emotional, trying to fight back my tears,” Esaw Garner told the Amsterdam News, “but all the support from the people empowers me to keep getting the word out that we want justice for my husband, Eric Garner.”
Asked what she does in her quiet time, the now-single mother of four said sadly, “I try not to have any quiet time. I keep myself busy. I try to keep my mind off of it.”
Commemorating the one-year anniversary Friday, July 17, dressed in all white with splashes of burnt orange, mothers of the slain were escorted by an honor guard into a gathering in Restoration Plaza.
The event was organized by Garner’s sister Ellisha, who decried the arrogance of errant officers who “get away with murder.” She told the Amsterdam News that the family will not be placated by the settlement with the city last week of $5.9 million. “They can’t keep us quiet with blood money. We want justice for my brother. We want the feds to take the case, and for officer [Daniel] Pantaleo to be indicted.”
The list of mothers who came out to support the Garner family, even in the wake of their own losses of children, is heart wrenching, and yet, sadly, still only the tip of the iceberg.
Seated on the stage were Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr; Sean Bell’s mother, Valerie Bellamy (her granddaughter Jada Bell was a part of a performing DeVore Dance Center troupe); Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton; Oscar Grant’s mother, Wanda Johnson; Ramarley Graham’s mother, Constance Malcolm; Michael Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden; Anthony Baez’s mother, Iris Baez; Muhammad Bah’s mother, Hawa Bah; and Anthony Rosario’s, mother, Margarita Rosario, along with Alberta Spruil’s niece, Cynthia Howell.
Their evening was not done. The family went both to the Rev. Herbert Daughtry’s House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn and to Pastor Emeritus Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker’s Canaan Baptist Church in Harlem.
Speaking of cops who have slain civilians, Daughtry said, “Rather than bring protection, they bring death. We have been here before, over and over again.”
The ceremony at Daughtry’s church, sponsored by Carr, was a service for the mothers of police-slain children, who wore all white with orange garlands around their necks to represent their movement toward racial congruity.
Carr told the Amsterdam News her courage is attributed to her faith. “The lord gives me strength in order to smile,” she said. “Without him, I don’t know what I’d do.”
Saturday, hundreds converged on Cadman Plaza in downtown Brooklyn in front of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Over a span of three hours there were renewed calls for federal action in the latest chapter of Garner’s family’s yearlong push for police accountability and reform and the demand that the U.S. Department of Justice indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo on civil rights charges for placing Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold last year. The protest was one of the many events held across the city last weekend to mark the first-year anniversary of Garner’s death.
“No matter how many headlines they get, no matter how many settlements, they would give it all up for their loved one,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network, who sponsored the event (along with union SEIU), said the family can no longer rely on the city to take action.
“We cannot depend on local law enforcement,” said the civil rights leader, who has been rallying with the family since the day Garner died. “In the name of Dr. King and others, we’re asking the federal government to come in and bring justice for Eric Garner.”
Esaw Garner said she will not stop fighting until her husband gets justice.
“Y’all keep me empowered,” she said. “I get nervous sometimes, but as soon as I see your faces, I know that you are here to support me. I get really, really strong. I will not stop loving him, and I will not stop fighting for him.”
The diverse crowd at the rally, many of whom were from labor unions and civil rights grassroots organizations, held signs with messages such as “Respect Human Rights,” “Black Lives Matter” and “Convict Corrupt Cops.” They also chanted “I Can’t Breathe,” the last words Garner told police before he died. It became the slogan at numerous protests across the country, before and after a local grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo last December.
Reportedly, the NYPD has wrapped up its own internal investigation, but it remains on “standby” pending an ongoing federal probe. Garner’s family and outraged supporters said it’s time for charges to be brought against Pantaleo, who remains on desk duty.
“Look over there!” shouted Bertha Lewis of the Black Institute, pointing to her right. “That’s the federal courthouse. We are here to send a message that says enough is enough.” Lewis made reference to a former official of soccer’s governing body FIFA, who the DOJ recently slapped with corruption charges, and added, “You know, I love [Attorney General] Loretta Lynch, but here is my message to you, sister Lynch: If you can indict FIFA, you can bring an indictment in the Eric Garner case.”
Garner’s altercation with police on July 17, 2014, was recorded on a cellphone video by bystander Ramsey Orta. The video showed Pantaleo putting Garner in what Police Commissioner William Bratton called a “prohibited” chokehold when he refused to be arrested. Other officers wrestled Garner to the ground.
Garner’s death was ruled a homicide by the city medical examiner’s office. The report said Garner’s health contributed to his death, as did the banned tactic that was used.
Brooklyn Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, who has been critical of Mayor Bill de Blasio and Bratton’s “broken windows” policing strategy, said the city has not done enough since Garner died. “We can’t turn a blind eye to what has occurred, and that’s what some in this city want us to do,” said Jeffries, who recently sponsored a bill that would make police chokeholds illegal nationwide under federal law. “I can’t understand. A year later, Eric Garner is dead, the person who took the video is under criminal prosecution and the police officer is still on the NYPD payroll.”
Supporters at the rally also called on the DOJ to bring civil rights charges against NYPD officer Richard Haste, who shot and killed unarmed teen Ramarley Graham in his grandmother’s bathroom in February 2012. Haste, whose manslaughter charge was dismissed, chased Graham from the streets and into his home. He said the teen was “acting suspicious,” and thought he had a gun. He did not.
The Bronx teen’s mother said it’s time for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and his department to “move swiftly” and stop “dragging their feet.”
“We are tired of waiting,” said Malcolm. “It’s been three and a half years. We are tired of waiting. Ramarley deserves justice. I deserve answers.”
Graham’s family settled their case with the city for $3.9 million in January.
Malcolm was joined by Carr, Fulton, Johnson and McSpadden. While thanking protestors for their support, the mothers said they hope their situations will not be repeated.
“Without you, we couldn’t do this alone,” said Carr, noting that she is a member of a club that no mother wants to be a part of. “We’ve got mothers who have been in this for two decades. We need your support, because we know next time it could be you or your son. And we want no more members. This club is full. It’s closed.”
Justice League activist Tamika Mallory challenged the crowd. She said, “After standing here and watching these mothers tell you about the loss of their children, how dare we go home and be comfortable dealing with the issues of our people? What is happening with young Black men and women across this country?”
Hazel Dukes, president of the NAACP New York Conference, invoked the names of a Michael Stewart and Medgar Evers, “Enough is enough,” she told the Amsterdam News, and that now, with a Black sitting president in Barack Obama and a Black U.S. attorney general in Lynch, is the time for the “Justice Department to straighten this out, not just for New York City, but across the nation.”
Dominque Sharpton, head of NAN’s national membership, urged young people to get engaged in the struggle for justice, stating, “Get involved, stay involved, definitely get registered to vote, as we can see with Gov. Cuomo appointing a special prosecutor—that is because of a series of voting. We need to make programs accessible for young people to tap into and rebuild relationships with the police in the community.”
Ashley Sharpton, Huddle director, said that getting a conversation started is key. “We started the NAN Huddle to get young people involved in the dialogue,” she told the Amsterdam News, of the weekly youth-orientated discussion and action organization. “We have created a space to get them talking, and you don’t always have to agree with each other, but it is important to hear each other.”
Iesha Sekou, of Street Corner Resources, said consistent visual activism catches the attention of the youth on the streets. “Change happens over time. When you engage young people who have been on the corner feeling hopeless, then if you get them involved it is easier to get other young people involved. We want what we do, I Am Peace, the Huddle, Occupy the Corners, all of that, to become part of the new movement,” said Sekou.
Baez’s son Anthony was killed in a chokehold by then officer Francis X. Livoti in the Bronx in 1994.
Asked by the Amsterdam News how she was doing, she replied, “It’s still day by day, because every time this happens, we mothers have to relive the deaths of our children all over again.”