Good Morning Everybody.
In the United States, we are developing a painful, peculiar set of anniversaries. These are our own modern day set of strange fruit anniversaries where we remember the moments when Black men, women, boys, and girls were murdered in cold blood by American police.
Each date is disturbing, but perhaps what is particularly disturbing is the fact that hardly day goes by in this country without such an anniversary. That’s how often we are killed.
This morning I want to lift up one particular story not just because it deserves to be told, but because I think we have some very present lessons to be learned in this case.
Four years ago this week, on a hot summer morning on a Staten Island sidewalk in New York City, a brother named Eric Garner was murdered. It was in broad daylight, in front of a crowd of witnesses, filmed on a cell phone, and eventually broadcast before the entire world.
Eric Garner was unarmed and non-violent. He was known as a peaceful man. He was a father and grandfather. He was a husband and a son. And on July 17th, 2014 – after police claim they were called to the scene of a disturbance that Eric Garner had absolutely nothing to do with, the officers ended up surrounding him.
I want to pause right there.
That never should’ve happened. He was not a threat. He was not causing anyone any harm. And when police surrounded Eric Garner as if they were trying to apprehend a violent felon, they broke protocol. And Eric Garner knew it. It was right there that Eric started asking the police to simply leave him alone. And what we didn’t understand was that Eric Garner had been illegally harassed by police like this in New York for his entire life. Long before we ever knew his name, he had bravely filed his own harassment complaints against the NYPD. And he was exhausted by them.
And right before notorious NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo began choking Eric Garner, you can hear the exasperation in Eric’s voice as he practically begs the police to leave him alone. But it meant nothing to those officers. For no reason at all, Officer Daniel Pantaleo, dressed in plain clothes, walked up behind Garner and applied a standing rear naked chokehold to Eric Garner’s neck – and then wrestled him to the ground, still applying the chokehold.
That very action had been banned by the NYPD for over a decade and was more than enough to warrant Panteleo’s immediate termination. And it was in that moment that Eric, with the last breaths in his body, told the officers over a dozen times that he could not breathe. Again, they didn’t care. They didn’t care at all. And Eric Garner died right there on that hot sidewalk, surrounded by police.
And I have two points I wanna make about that moment. The first is personal, the second is political.
I had organized around police brutality and racial violence for years, but it was seeing the video of Eric Garner being killed in broad daylight by the NYPD that caused me to change the entire trajectory of my life to fight back against police brutality full time as a journalist and organizer. At the time of his death I was doing something completely different with my life, but I just couldn’t shake what the police did to this man. I still can’t. None of us should.
And I wanna close this morning with a very political thought.
New York City is completely controlled by Democrats. Our mayor is generally thought to be the most liberal big city mayor in America. Our city council, which has 51 members, has 47 Democrats. Our governor is a Democrat.
And yet this city and state have absolutely failed Eric Garner’s family. My dear friend Erica Garner, at just 27 years old, literally died fighting for justice for her father, and here we are, 1,464 days after his murder, still waiting.
Even the Obama administration failed this family. Over and over again, Obama administration officials told the Garner family they’d take care of this case before Obama left office, and they didn’t. They had over two years and did nothing.
And afraid to move, nobody has done anything at all, still claiming, falsely I might add, that this case is under investigation. That’s a lie. This investigation was an open and close case that shouldn’t have taken more than a few weeks. It’s been 48 months.
And let me give this final thought. When Democrats have power, they have to use it – and they aren’t. They wouldn’t have power without our votes. And if they aren’t going to use their power to our advantage, we have to elect people who truly will not just here in New York City, but all over the country – we must demand that the politicians we put in office actually have the courage of their convictions to back us in meaningful ways. Sadly, that’s just not what we have right now.
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