Erica Garner, an activist, and daughter of Eric Garner, passed away on December 30th at the age of 27.
The week prior, she had endured an asthma episode and was placed in a medically induced coma, which precipitated a major heart attack and subsequent brain damage. In wake of her passing, it is vital that her work is remembered and furthered.
Erica became a public figure when her father died in 2014, after he was put into a chokehold by a New York City police officer who questioned him for selling untaxed cigarettes. Eric Garner also suffered from asthma, and while being choked repeated the phrase “I can’t breathe” eleven times. This phrase became a marker of police brutality, and a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement which seeks to challenge it.
Though Mr. Garner’s death was deemed a homicide, Officer Pantaleo was not charged for having killed him. Erica Garner had since made a consistent effort to draw attention to the implications of her father’s death and to ensure that similar instances are wholly prevented. She began staging weekly “die-ins” after his death, lying in the spot where her father was killed as a method of protest. She led marches, rallies, spoke on television and on radio programs, and met with political figures, all in hope of sparking wider reform to deal with uncontested police killings.
Her journey was met with significant resistance: “From police barricades being installed at the locations where her group is known to march, to the Staten Island police scheduling rallies at the same time– and on the same route as hers– to attacks from political hit-men.”
Her persistence and her commitment to honesty remain her most notable traits. In conversation with Rolling Stone, she said of her father’s death: “I don’t want people to see my father as something he wasn’t. He was just a man. That’s what I want people to see, an ordinary man who tried.” She spoke of her own struggles with providing for her young son, Eric, and of considering selling drugs. Despite this, she never wavered in pursuit of her larger goal, and in putting forth her opinions, however controversial they were deemed.
During the 2016 elections, she endorsed Bernie Sanders for having protested systemic racism throughout his life, and then explained her reasons for becoming an activist. She stated, “I feel like a representative for people throughout this whole nation because I’m doing this, I’m speaking out, me being his daughter. And that’s what I want to do, I just want to tell my truths...I’m never going to forget. And I don’t want the world to forget what happened to my dad.”
To the Washington Post, she claimed, “Even with my own heartbreak, when I demand justice, it’s never just for Eric Garner. It’s for my daughter; it’s for the next generation of African Americans.”
Erica Garner remains a symbol of resilience, and her death is a loss to all. For her work to be continued is crucial to ensuring the safety she wished for future generations.