It was exactly one year ago that a grand jury decided not to indict a NYPD officer who was caught on video putting Eric Garner into a chokehold, pulling him backwards and down onto the sidewalk, and pushing his face into the ground despite the fact that Garner stated, "I can't breath," eleven times. Garner was then left on the ground for 7 minutes. Neither Officer Daniel Pantaleo not the other officers nor the EMT performed CPR on the 43-year-old father of 6, who was pronounced dead an hour later. Why had Garner been approached by police in the first place? Because he had committed the crime of selling loose cigarettes.
The senseless and unpunished murder of her son, transformed Gwen Carr, a long-time MTA train operator, forever. She soon retired from the MTA to become a full-time activist. I spoke with Mrs. Carr this week on my WBAI radio show, about her life, her son, her family, and her justice work. Here is some of what she told me.
About the failure to indict:
I definitely did [expect an indictment]. My son’s death was caught on video. Full coverage. And there was no indictment. You mean the grand jury didn’t see any probable cause? Where is the justice in that? Nobody asked them to try the case. Just to look for probably cause. That’s what a grand jury does.
About her channeling her grief into something positive.
What really got me was when I start thinking about well my son is gone now. If I don’t do something about it, I can’t expect anyone else to do anything. So, I’m gonna get out there and I’m gonna keep his name alive. If it’s only me, I’m gonna keep his name alive. And when I found out about how many others that were out there, I said I’m gonna make a promise to be the voice of my son and the voice of the voiceless and the nameless. So, I’m gonna try to keep that promise by speaking out, walking, rallying, doing whatever it takes until my voice is heard, until we get justice.
Justice for me is to hold everyone accountable who was involved in my son’s death that day. Because it was a senseless killing. It did not have to happen. And when they did this to my son they went deep on me. They stole my joy, they killed my spirit and they ripped my heart out. So, I just want to see everyone stand accountable for what they did that day because if there’s a crime there should be accountability whether you wear blue jeans, a blue suit or a blue uniform.
About how to end police violence and murder:
You gotta stop things at the head bc not just the police. But anybody if they know they’re gonna get away with it, what’s to stop them from continuing. So I think if their superiors would get out of their comfort zones and see that these police are held accountable for their actions and do what needs to be done. I mean all police are not bad but the ones that are, they make a bad name for the rest.
I’m doing this for my son and all the others. If this hadn’t happened to him-- you know I wasn’t an activist, at the time, but after this happened to my son, it has broadened my awareness about how cruel this world is. How cruel this would is to people of color and I just think that we have a lot of work to do. We have to get out here and we have to make some noise.
Not only has Mrs. Carr made noise, but she's changed policy: "Me and the other NY mothers who have had sons killed senselessly, who were not armed we were up in Albany on the regular to see the governor to ask him if he would sign and executive order for a special prosecutor."
You can listen to the full interview with Gwen Carr here (it starts at 18 minutes).