Remembering Anti-Police Brutality Activist Erica Garner, Who Died At 27

Jan 2, 2018
Originally published on January 2, 2018 9:52 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to take a few moments now to remember Erica Garner. The activist died over the weekend after suffering a heart attack. She was 27 years old. Erica Garner's father Eric died at the hands of New York police in 2014. His final words, I can't breathe, became a rallying cry against police brutality, and his daughter became a leading voice in that movement. Here's Erica Garner last month appearing on the program "Like It Or Not" with Benjamin Dixon.

(SOUNDBITE OF ONLINE PROGRAM, "LIKE IT OR NOT")

ERICA GARNER: I'm in this fight forever. And no matter how long it takes - 20 years from now, I - we deserve justice. And I want to get justice for other people. And I want other families, you know, to know like it's hard, but you got to keep on. You got to keep the name out there because people will forget.

MARTIN: We're joined now by Kirsten West Savali. She wrote a piece for The Root titled "Erica Garner: I'm In This Fight Forever." Thanks so much for being with us.

KIRSTEN WEST SAVALI: Thank you so much, Rachel.

MARTIN: What struck you about Erica Garner the first time you met her?

SAVALI: Her brilliance, her resiliency - her eyes were very sad. And I recognized that grief in her because I lost my father. And that is how we bonded. That is how we connected. You know, I mention in the piece it wasn't as journalists and activists. It was as two women who were just desperately missing their fathers and wanted to make sure that their legacies endured and no one ever forgot their name. And I saw that in her.

MARTIN: No one would have blamed Erica if after her father died she just turned inside herself in order to manage her grief. And she did the exact opposite. Did it come naturally for her to become this outspoken public advocate? Or was that transition difficult?

SAVALI: You know, we didn't talk about whether or not it came naturally for her. But she has spoken about that. She has spoken about how she felt she didn't have a choice. You know, she didn't have a choice. She wanted to make sure that her father's name was not forgotten. She wanted to make sure that she walked in the tradition of people like Martin Luther King and like Malcolm X and like Ida B. Wells and like Fannie Lou Hamer - and just be that voice for people who were not only marginalized but who were actively being occupied in their own communities. And, you know, I felt - again, when I called her an intentional revolutionary, that's exactly what I meant. She did not just stumble into anything. She was very intentional and very clear-eyed about what she wanted to do. And that was justice for her father and subsequently justice for all people marginalized and targeted by the police state.

MARTIN: She took on a lot of high-profile Democrats, who would have preferred that she be on their side, frankly, when it comes to politics. She was critical of President Obama, of Mayor Bill de Blasio - Democrat in New York. She refused to support Hillary Clinton for president. Do you know what her thoughts were about how these leaders responded or did not respond to her father's death?

SAVALI: Absolutely. And I think that's something that, you know, we have seen with the Democratic Party. We saw that with President Obama. He was very tepid when it came to talking about police brutality and state violence. We saw Mayor Bill de Blasio basically refuse to release Daniel Pantaleo's disciplinary record even though he had multiple, multiple strikes against him.

MARTIN: He was the police officer involved in Eric Garner's death.

SAVALI: Yes, he was. Exactly. We saw him say that, you know, he had to follow this archaic law that said that, you know, there was a protection there. They didn't have to release his records. With Eric Holder, we saw the Justice Department - it was announced in 2014 that they were discussing or looking into bringing about federal civil rights charges against him. And that has never come to pass.

MARTIN: So she wanted a more aggressive, more forthright response.

SAVALI: A more authentic response.

MARTIN: A more authentic response.

SAVALI: Yes.

MARTIN: We will have to leave it there. Kirsten West Savali writes for the publication The Root. We've been remembering the life of Erica Garner, whose father Eric Garner was killed at the hands of police in 2014. Thanks so much for your time this morning, Kirsten.

SAVALI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.