Day 20 - Last Words: Eric Garner

Day 20 - Last Words: Eric Garner

"I can't breathe."

- Eric Garner, 1970-2014

In 2007 Eric Garner filed a handwritten complaint in federal court accusing a New York police officer of conducting a cavity search of him on the street, in public, while people passed by. 

On July 17, 2014 he had just broken up a fight and was approached by a plainclothes officer, Daniel Pantaleo. A friend recorded their interaction, and Garner said, “Every time you see me you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. … I’m minding my business, officer. I’m minding my business. Please leave me alone.”

Pantaleo tried to handcuff Garner, who swatted away his arms. Pantaleo then put Garner in a "chokehold," which is prohibited by NYPD regulations. The arrest was supervised by an NYPD sergeant, Kizzy Adoni, who did not intervene in the illegal use of the chokehold. Officer Pantaleo pushed Garner to the ground, where he lay motionless, handcuffed, and unresponsive for several minutes. 

On August 1, 2014, the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Garner’s death a homicide. On December 3, a grand jury decided not to indict Officer Pantaleo. In June 2015 the city of New York agreed to pay $5.9 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the relatives of Eric Garner. The last known words of Eric Garner are taken from a video recording taken by a friend on July 17, 2014.

Sources: New York Times, Washington Post

Richard: You know I don’t believe in God, Grandmama.

Mother Henry: You don’t know what you’re talking about. Ain’t no way possible for you not to believe in God. It ain’t up to you.

Richard: Who’s it up to, then?

Mother Henry: It’s up to the life in you – the life in you. That knows where it comes from, that believes in God. You doubt me, you just try holding your breath long enough to die.
— James Baldwin, Blues for Mister Charlie, 1964
Merciful Lord, you created us with breath in our lungs. We cannot hold our breath long enough to die. And yet, breath can be taken away by the life of another of your children. And so often it is the breath of the black body that is smothered, choked, and extinguished. It is not a desire to die that keeps Eric Garner from breathing, but the police officer’s arm around his neck. It is the arms around all of our necks that keep us from breathing. It is the fear that our breath will be considered “aggressive behavior” and that if we open our mouths, an officer will fill it with bullets. We are out of breath from running with our hands up. Mother Henry says that there is life in all of us – let us find this life and clutch it so tightly that it cannot be torn away from us. Amen.
Day 21 - First Steps: Visit

Day 21 - First Steps: Visit

Day 19 - First Steps: Hold

Day 19 - First Steps: Hold