More than 100 people filed into the First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem on the third anniversary of Eric Garner’s death Monday night. The crowd gathered not only to celebrate Garner’s memory through prayer, song and dance, but to continue a larger discussion about police violence in America.
Garner’s widow, Esaw, sat at the front of the church next to daughter Emerald and son Emery.
“My father taught me how to be a man,” said Emery, fighting back tears.
Emerald said that, going forward, the Eric Garner Foundation will place an emphasis on creating more access to mental health resources, something she said is “everything right now.”
“We have no faith in the process,” Emerald said.
Meanwhile in Staten Island, Garner’s friends and family congregated near the site of his death in a show of solidarity.
“I have mixed emotions,” Garner’s mother Gwen Carr said. “I’m just so glad that we still have people that support us. I have to live this nightmare of my son being choked to death every day. That will never go away.”
Garner was killed July 17, 2014, as police in Staten Island tried to arrest him for selling loose cigarettes. Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who placed the father in a chokehold, remains on modified duty and may still face federal charges. He has not faced departmental review.
Garner’s death was captured on video, and his dying words of “I can’t breathe” became a rallying cry for protesters. His death, as well as other high-profile police-involved deaths, also helped inspire political change: Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order in July 2015 giving the attorney general the ability to take over cases in which an unarmed civilian is killed by a law enforcement officer.
Following a panel-led discussion Monday, the Rev. Al Sharpton addressed the crowd.
“If your police training didn’t kick in, your humanity should have kicked in,” Sharpton said. “You can’t settle this with money – you can only settle it with justice.”
Following Garner’s death, a special grand jury was convened in Staten Island, deliberating for nine weeks and hearing testimony from 50 witnesses. In December 2014, the jury decided not to indict Pantaleo.
Federal prosecutors started presenting evidence to a grand jury in February 2016 in an effort to determine whether or not Garner’s civil rights were violated. In June, Sharpton and members of Garner’s family met with Justice Department investigators and said the investigation was ongoing.