Police Murder of Eric Garner

"How Do We Stop This?"

July 28, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


“How Do We Stop This? How Do We Stop This?” The words, filled with anger, hurt, and deep questioning, were repeated by a close relative of Eric Garner as people gathered July 23 on the sidewalk outside the church in Brooklyn, New York City, where hundreds had come to view Eric’s body and attend his funeral service.

Six days earlier, July 17, the NYPD had murdered Eric, a 43-year-old Black man, in broad daylight on Staten Island. Caught on videotape in horrifying detail—the cop put Eric in a chokehold and took him down, continuing the chokehold as more cops jumped on Eric, and then the same cop smashed his face to the concrete—all without any resistance from him. His last cries: “I can’t breathe... I can’t breathe... I can’t breathe.” The cops, and medics on the scene several minutes later, did nothing but poke at his body. A second video shows the cop who choked Eric chatting casually, and then waving to the camera as Eric’s body is taken away. Millions all over this country and the world have watched this police murder.

Eric Garner’s murder hit people who knew and loved him hard. This was a brother people called “a teddy bear,” “a sweet, sweet man,” “a gentle giant.” A big guy who didn’t use his size to bully others, but instead was known as a peacemaker, putting himself at risk to step in and break up or prevent fights, which is what he was doing just before the police came and snatched his life away.

Eric’s life and death captured so much about the experience of whole sections of Black and Latino people—pushed to the economic margins of society, “suspects” when they leave their “own” neighborhoods, under siege when they stay there; given no means to make a living within the “legitimate” economy, and then constantly dogged, harassed, and dehumanized by the police—and really by the whole society and culture of the U.S.—for trying to scrape by as best they can.

Eric Garner supplemented his wife’s income to raise six kids by selling loosies (single cigarettes)—like so many others who have to struggle to make a few dollars to make ends meet. Eric had told his son the night before his death how proud he was that he would be the first in the family to go to college.

A middle-aged man sitting in Tompkinsville Park, near where Eric was killed, agonized over the situation of so many grown men like Eric. He talked with a Revolution correspondent about the economy of loosies: “That’s ’cause a lot of people can’t afford a whole pack of cigarettes, but they’re on their way to work and they come up with 50 cents to buy one.”

Then people are harassed and degraded for living any way they can. A young guy from Harlem who is a frequent visitor to the neighborhood said the way the police treat people here is even worse than what goes on in Harlem. One person who knew Eric Garner said that the police “definitely targeted him.” A longtime friend of Eric’s said, “I seen them jacking him up seven times, I seen the judge cut him loose seven times. But these fucking pigs here, they got tired of seeing him... You know how he [Eric] said: ‘This ends today’? Well they also said, ‘You gotta go today.’”

Eric Garner reportedly had been arrested 30 times in his life, for petty shit like selling cigarettes or for nothing at all. He had filed a handwritten lawsuit in federal court against harassment that included, according to his suit, being subjected to a rectal exam right out on the street.

Eric told his attorneys that he wasn’t pleading out to any of these charges, he was innocent and he wanted to go to court. In New York City (and in most major cities), over 90 percent of charges never go to trial. There is great pressure from the entire justice system, including many defense lawyers, to accept a plea bargain (plead guilty) whether you did the crime or not. If you don’t accept the plea, you are liable to be held in Rikers Island jail for a long time waiting for trial with bail you can’t make—losing your job if you have one, cut off from family and those who need you—and then you might get a trial judge who gives you a worse sentence anyway. So deciding not to plead out your case and go to trial takes a lot of determination.

In the video you see Eric putting his hands out, palms up in a gesture that he is not attacking anyone. He insists that he is not doing anything wrong and says, calmly but defiantly, “This ends today!” That defiance was intolerable to the police. Six cops were on the scene, including a sergeant who took part or stood by as Eric was beaten down and left to die on the sidewalk. There were EMTs who either failed or were prevented from doing the most basic things like CPR to save his life.

One guy said: “The police are the enforcers, they don’t care about anything, and if you don’t do exactly what they tell you to do, they will beat you, beat you down, even kill you.” Eric’s mom said: “It’s just a lack of humanity, that’s what it was. He was nothing to them, but he was our people.”

It is all of this and more that has brought people out into the streets, again and again. On Staten Island two days after the murder, 300-400 people, including a lot of youths, took to the streets, marching to the police precinct with the chant “I Can’t Breathe.” When a “community leader” told the crowd that all police were not the problem, he was roundly booed.

Two days later, July 21, hundreds more gathered at Tompkinsville Park, and a planned vigil turned into another march to the precinct demanding justice, denouncing the racist murder as the lynching of a Black man. A crew of people from the Revolution Club in Harlem and from the Stop Mass Incarceration Network (SMIN) joined in to denounce this lynching by the police. They got out Revolution newspaper and the SMIN pamphlet calling for a powerful national Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration, Police Terror, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation in October. People spoke bitterly about the ever-present police brutality they are subjected to. A young woman said her 14-year-old brother had been badly beaten up by the same cop who choked Eric to death... the day before the killing! Another showed a photo of the beaten face of her son. There were many more stories like this.

For most this was their first encounter with Revolution newspaper and their first time learning about revolutionary leader Bob Avakian. A Latina showed her friends a vivid picture from Revolution of children coming across the U.S.-Mexico border—facing La Migra (border police) and being put into concentration camps—and said, “See, this is what the police are doing on the border.”

On July 24, some 500 people from Staten Island and the broader NYC area went to Eric’s funeral. Among them were many of his extended family and scores of people who knew him as a man who “loved people”—in the words of a homeless man who said he hung out with Eric because he could talk with him, people “felt safe with him.” Parents of people murdered by the police over the years and decades came, including Iris Baez, whose oldest son, Anthony, was killed in a police chokehold in 1994, and Nicole Paultre Bell, whose fiancee, Sean Bell, was killed on their wedding day in a hail of 50 police bullets.

People were hurt and angry—and became even more angry at the heavy police presence at the funeral. A couple of older women shouted at the police lined up across the street, “Murderers... you should be wearing KKK hoods.” People pointed at police on rooftops near the church and once again the chant went up, “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” A cop ordered a revolutionary, who had been speaking to the crowd, to move away. “What are you going to do... choke me?” the revolutionary responded. Immediately, two middle-aged Black women stepped defiantly in front of the cops to take a stack of leaflets with the statement by Carl Dix of the Revolutionary Communist Party against the police murder of Eric Garner. Others followed their lead, “Yeah, give me some too, fuck them.” The police retreated.

Controversy roiled. Some spoke bitterly about Black people’s history in America: slavery, lynching under Jim Crow segregation, and today’s brutal mass incarceration and police lynchings. Others attempted to shut down the expressions of outrage and people connecting with the movement for revolution.

The two sides of the controversy were drawn out: On one side the police and the system that had murdered Eric Garner, and those who wanted the masses to be quiet—and on the other side, everybody with an ounce of justice in their hearts and who wanted to tell the world “THIS MUST STOP! This nightmare must end.” People were visibly moved, and began to weigh where they themselves and others stood in relationship to that divide. Some stepped up to take more fliers, to help hold the SMIN banner, and to hook up with the Month of Resistance and with the revolution.

On the eve of another major protest, a revolutionary communist was out in the neighborhood talking to guys who knew and loved Eric. An older Black guy said that even though he didn’t live in the neighborhood anymore, he was going to be there “every night, until those cops go to jail.” He wanted the revolutionaries to be clear that this fight for justice for Eric was real. Small groups of people wrangled over how to understand what is happening to Black people, and what will solve it.

As the statement from the NYC Branch of the RCP on the police murder of Eric Garner says, the fight for justice has to become part of something bigger, part of preparing for revolution.

Volunteers Needed... for revcom.us and Revolution

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.