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I had no idea how difficult it would be to write my book, This Stops Today: Eric Garner’s Mother Seeks Justice After Losing Her Son (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018), I had hoped the process would be cathartic, a way to deal with the pain once and for all, but I discovered that grief doesn’t work that way. At least not for me. Forcing myself to re-live the events of July 17, 2014 was just as painful because I had to dig deep and analyze everything that happened.
One of God’s most gracious gifts to us is the ability to allow horrific memories to gradually evolve so that we can go on living. It’s no less horrible or devastating, but with God’s help I have been able to move on with my life. Now my goal is to help prevent others from experiencing the brutality that my son faced his last day on this earth.
As people viewed and shared the viral video many times over, everyone watched as they trapped my son like a caged animal. I have seen parts of it and heard what happened in the remaining portions. My son was so frustrated with the ongoing harassment, especially because he had done nothing wrong that day. Others even backed him up, trying to reason with the NYPD and help de-escalate the situation. It’s true that he tried to avoid being handcuffed because he knew that once that happened, he would be totally helpless, once again at their authoritarian mercy.
He wasn’t aggressive or assertive with those officers. He did what he had always done, tried to calm everyone down and bring reason to the unreasonable, shed light in the darkness. He even asked them to please not touch him. He didn’t struggle with them, just tried to use his words, but they were ignored. This is the part I have not watched, the part where they took him down and he was slammed first into the storefront glass and then the sidewalk. Still he pled for mercy.
As the officers piled on him, one even pushed on his head with such force that he could not get air. His asthma was likely triggered by the stress of the situation and the way they blocked his air flow. It was just inhumane. I can’t imagine a wild animal being treated in such a manner. The cries for mercy and the right to breathe just tear me up. Can anyone imagine if that was their child?
How could I not be able to protect my son? That was my job on this earth, and this was one time when I couldn’t run to his aid. It wasn’t like when he was an infant and I could feelthat something was wrong with his breathing. He was an extension of me and I knew then that he was suffering, that he wasn’t breathing like the other children I’d seen at the hospital. He needed help and I made sure he got it.
Out there on Bay Street, he did not get the same treatment. I was not able to save my son that time. His friends tried to intervene, but they were not able to get close enough to help. They all tried their best by filming the tragedy and proclaiming his innocence, but the police kept them at bay. If they had felt there was no option but to arrest him, they should have done that without the aggression. It wasn’t necessary. And when it was obvious that something was wrong, why didn’t they get help? Isn’t that a natural human instinct, to help someone when they need it? Weren’t they sworn to protect and serve?
At least with the video, the incident wouldn’t get swept under the rug like so many others before it. There was now irrefutable evidence of the horror folks face out here in the streets every single day. Finally, the sheer terror and inhumanenessthat the disadvantaged have to deal with was captured with no edits and no cuts. It was raw and real, the dirty truth of our world made public.
The one consolation was that with this evidence, things had to change. At least this would save other people of color from this inhumanity. With social media lit up by the incident, everyone on the planet finally realized that all people deserve human decency and fair treatment.
With every view and share of that evidence, things had to improve. Others would be saved from this travesty because law enforcement would be more cautious from now on. With cell phones pointed at them to record every moment, it meant that things had to get better, they just had to. I was sure that once people saw what happened, Eric’s death would be vindicated, and the officers would pay dearly for what they had done to my boy.
I was sure of it.
Gwen Carr is the author of This Stops Today: Eric Garner’s Mother Seeks Justice After Losing Her Son.
© This Stops Today, 2018