The day I write this, July 17 in 2014, a tragic death was caught on film that shook the nation. Then 44-year-old Eric Garner, an African American man in New York City, was confronted by New York City Police Officers after he was alleged to have been selling untaxed cigarettes outside of a Staten Island convenience store – a very minor offense. After denying the allegations and a short struggle with police, his death created public outcry for police brutality among African American citizens.
Now, five years later, we find out the Department of Justice will not bring charges against the officers involved in the death of Garner despite the death being ruled as homicide.
The news will leave many distraught after the rallying cry “I can’t breathe” was shouted by protestors across major cities in the United States demanding justice for the death African Americans by excessive police brutality. Garner was non-violent but was upset at the harassment he regularly received from police. “Every time you see me, you want to harass me,” he said, “I’m minding my business, officer, I’m minding my business. Please just leave me alone. I told you the last time, please just leave me alone.”
A bystander then caught the tragic incident on video. Officers attempted to handcuff Garner, and Garner resisted. He did this non-violently. You can see him holding his hands up in the air as police bring him to the ground with one officer behind him holding him in a choke hold – a maneuver that has been prohibited by NYPD policy. With multiple officers pinning him to the ground, Garner’s last words, “I can’t breathe” were repeated multiple times before he died.
The Department of Justice claims are that they cannot prove that the officer that administered the illegal chokehold willfully or intentionally tried to harm or kill Garner based on his testimony. There are actions that the NYPD can take directly to his role as an officer in New York City, but many believe that any action will be unlikely. Garner’s family and many others have already taken to the streets in protest of what they claim to be lack of justice on part of the DOJ.
I was devastated when I heard about Eric Garner’s death. If you’ve seen the video, you can see that he was a man who was simply fed up with being harassed for the color of his skin. He held his hands in the air as an officer came up behind him and administered what would be the death of him in the form of a chokehold. Things are never simple, however. I don’t claim to know the right answers in these tragedies, but I can’t help but wonder if this would have occurred had Garner been a white man alleged of the same minor crime.
He was a father. He was a son. He didn’t deserve to die. The death of Eric Garner will resonate throughout the African American community for many years, and his final words will echo in the hearts and minds of this nation as a whole. I can only hope that those words leave a lasting impression on this country’s justice system.