Hundreds of mourners lined up in the freezing cold Monday to bid a final farewell to Erica Garner, the daughter of police chokehold victim Eric Garner, but not all of the activist’s family members were able to get inside for the funeral service.
Family and friends gathered at the First Corinthian Baptist Church, located at 1912 Adam Clayton Powell Blvd., around 5 p.m. but when Garner’s cousin, Benjamin Lawton, and her grandmother, Gwen Carr, arrived, they weren’t allowed in.
“I can’t say goodbye to my cousin,” Lawton said outside the church before turning his ire on the Rev. Al Sharpton and the National Action Network, which the church said was responsible for the funeral’s security.
“This is not something that we make into a media event,” Lawton said. “This is so messed up.”
Garner, 27, died on Dec. 30 after being hospitalized and placed in a medically-induced coma for a heart attack that caused brain damage due to a lack of oxygen, according to the person tweeting from her account. She is survived by her mother and her two children.
Garner became a prominent activist against police brutality in 2014 following her father’s death, which was partially attributed to a police chokehold he was placed in by an NYPD officer. In 2016, she supported Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in his bid for president by introducing him at a rally in South Carolina and appearing in a pro-Sanders ad with her then-6-year-old daughter.
Sharpton, who founded the National Action Network in 1991 and worked closely with the Garner family in calling for justice following Eric Garner’s death, had urged people to attend Monday’s services as a way to pay respect to her “life and legacy.” But when the funeral began, dozens were left out in the cold.
As the crowd outside of the church became increasingly rowdy, including at least one fight that ended in no arrests, a woman came outside and said: “The family is asking everyone to calm down.”
First Corinthian Baptist Church released a statement during the funeral, saying it was not involved in the incident.
"Any security detail involved were provided by the National Action Network and any guest lists associated with the event were provided by the family," the statement said. "We’re honored to have hosted a funeral procession worthy of Erica Garner’s life and our thoughts and prayers remain with the family."
A National Action Network spokeswoman, however, said the organization had nothing to do with the security.
Standing outside of the church after the funeral, Sharpton quickly dismissed the tension.
“Yeah, there’s family friction; some family was asked not to come,” he said. “But despite that we had a full funeral honoring her and pledging to continue her fight for justice for her father.”
Sharpton said later in a statement that the National Action Network was asked to help with the funeral by Erica Garner's mother, Esaw.
"We fulfilled the requests made by Erica’s mother Esaw much like we did for Eric’s mother Gwen when doing Eric’s Homegoing service," he said. "We had nothing to do with lists, as we do not know all the members of the family, and as I stated in my eulogy of Erica, I’m not on either side of a family in a civil rights case. I am on the side of justice."
Eric Garner died in July 2014 after an NYPD officer placed him in a banned chokehold while he was being arrested for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. A video captured his dying words of “I can’t breathe,” which became a rallying cry for police brutality protesters. In September, the Civilian Complaint Review Board recommended discipline against Officer Daniel Pantaleo for using the chokehold on Garner.
In the aftermath of Erica Garner’s death, Sharpton and other activists renewed their calls for the Department of Justice, which is investigating Pantaleo’s actions, to bring charges against him in the case.
With Nicole Levy