As is often the case, Erica Garner was only celebrated after she tragically fell silent at the young age of 27. While alive as a steadfast social movement organizer, who tirelessly sought to combat police terror and unite the voices of victims' families, she received scant media coverage and was even blackballed from television networks when her outrage was intolerable for the managers of mainstream U.S. media outlets.
Erica Garner Dead at Age 27
Erica was the daughter of NYPD chokehold victim Eric Garner, an emblematic community martyr whose meaningless death at the hands of “New York's Finest” – the “Broken Windows” and “Stop and Frisk”-schooled racist cops of NYC – was sadly typical of the brutality meted out daily to oppressed nationalities and people of color throughout the United States.
His final words, “I can't breathe,” became a watchword and a slogan for movements against police brutality across the country, from ad-hoc coalitions to Black Lives Matters chapters. It's a common phrase for anyone familiar with police misconduct and abuse, and is found in a huge portion of transcripts from audio-recorded arrests where the police quickly resort to brutality when dealing with cornered “suspects” who are manhandled and beaten merely on suspicion of breaking the law are accused of “resisting” when they simply are crumpled into a position where they lack oxygen.
As such, Erica Garner was a natural leader in the nationwide movement against police terror, simply by dint of her experiential knowledge of the grief that comes to the relatives of martyrs like Eric. Her outrage was as genuine as it comes: in July 2016, she stormed out of a “presidential town hall” hosted by ABC News when she realized that President Obama had invited her to a photo opportunity, a public relations spectacle, with no intention to allow her time to speak. Instead, she would be forced to hear sanctimonious lectures on “healing,” understanding, and other police chief cliches.
Her solidarity wasn't forced, it wasn't a product of “community leader” training funded by millionaire philanthropists, and it wasn't a result of the schooling given to politicians eager to impress their constituents with their powerful ability to feign empathy, understanding and solidarity.
When Mayor Bill de Blasio claimed to be unable to release the records of Daniel Pantaleo, the man who robbed her of her father's life, she was unphased by the threadbare excuse that a long-forgotten and oft-ignored law from three decades ago prevented him from releasing the records. Her fury was pure and shocking for those who saw "peace officers" as their "heroes in blue," and was ignored by the same media outlets now “celebrating” her life (or death):
“Just cause you love Black pu**y don’t mean you love Black lives… cc @BilldeBlasio,” Erica wrote on Twitter, ridiculing the white mayor's marriage to a black woman and ostensible support for diversity and liberalism that was contradicted by his fronting for white supremacist extrajudicial murder.
“The thing that kills me is that De Blasio is raising a Black man . . . This is the example . . . My dad lays down and rolls over for white supremacy,” she added.
“Even with my own heartbreak, when I demand justice, it’s never just for Eric Garner," she wrote in Washington Post during the Democratic presidential primaries when she refused to endorse candidate Hillary Clinton, opting for her competition Senator Bernie Sanders, “It’s for my daughter; it’s for the next generation of African Americans.”
In the final analysis, however, Erica wasn't a simple martyr or a living monument: she, like her father before her, was a human being who – as her loved ones wrote on her Twitter – was a mother, daughter, sister and aunt with a heart "bigger than the world."
She travelled across the country to undertake the heart-breaking work solidarity demanded: emotional processing alongside fellow bereaved family members of police terror victims, media appearances to advocate for brutalized communities, and fearless challenges to politicians that sought to posture as allies but, in fact, were dependent on the support of powerful police unions and “benevolent associations.”
As the mainstream U.S. news agencies eulogize her death – taking a break from xeroxed police press releases justifying other incidents of police murder – let's remember the real Erica Garner, whose deeds and realness render her immune to the sanitized and whitewashed young heroine they seek to fabricate.
Erica Garner – Presente!