Erica Garner, Daughter of Eric Garner, Dies At 27

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Two days before the new year, Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner and leader in the Black Lives Matter movement, passed away after suffering a massive heart attack that caused severe brain damage one week prior. This was Erica’s second heart attack, after having her first one four months prior following a difficult pregnancy and the birth of her son, Eric, named after his late grandfather. Erica left behind two children and her mother, Esaw Snipes. During her final days, a constant vigil was held by family and friends outside Woodhull Hospital, where Erica lay fighting for her life in a medically induced coma.

Erica became an outspoken activist in the fight to end police brutality after her father, Eric Gardner, was murdered by Officer David Pantaleo on Staten Island in 2014. A few months after her father’s death, Erica organized a powerful ‘die-in’ demonstration on the very ground where her father was illegally choked by police. She has since become a fierce champion of criminal justice reform on multiple levels, from leading rallies to end police violence to campaigning for Senator Bernie Sanders during his 2016 presidential run. Eric Garner was unarmed when Pantaleo suffocated him using an illegal NYPD chokehold, leading to a fatal heart attack. Video footage of the incident proved that Officer Pantaleo continued to administer the chokehold despite Eric saying “I can’t breath” multiple times. This phrase has become a slogan of the Black Lives Matter movement that it helped spark, echoing at rallies and demonstrations across the country.

Erica has boldly and publicly challenged the string of continuing injustices her father and family have been dealt since the grave injustice of her father’s brutal death at the hands of NYPD officers. Despite the continued efforts of the Garner family and police reform advocates, Officer Daniel Pantaleo was never indicted in connection to Eric Garner's death, and he remains employed by the NYPD in a modified capacity. The other officers involved in Eric Garner’s death have never been faced with any charges or brought before a grand jury. The U.S. Department of Justice civil rights investigation into Eric Garner’s death continues to this day at a painfully slow pace. Last year, Erica Garner called out Mayor De Blasio for refusing to release Officer Pantaleo’s internal NYPD disciplinary records.

Fellow activists have no doubt that the heartbreak over her father’s death and the failure of our system to bring his killers to justice contributed to Erica’s own untimely death. But this was not society’s only contribution. Being a Black woman meant Erica had less access to preventative healthcare that may have caught her heart condition sooner. Being a Black mother meant that she faced dramatically increased risks of maternal mortality and developing pregnancy-related complications. Being a Black activist meant that she carried the exhausting and overwhelming burden of publically challenging the vast systems of oppression that guide our society and continually facing the trauma of her own marginalization. Being a Black person in America meant that she had to live with the daily stress and frustration of existing in a world that was not built for her or her family to thrive. Erica Garner’s legacy shows us how white supremacy and institutional racism contribute to the suffering of black and brown communities in so many ways, both directly and indirectly, subtlety and overtly, individually and collectively. Her relentless strength and energy as an activist stands as an example to all of us. Her ability to transform the pain and trauma of her father’s unjust death into a passion for criminal justice reform will continue to inspire future generations of activists. If we are to prevail in the fight against systemic bias and institutional racism, we must learn how to use our experiences of injustice as fuel, and flip the passive language of personal victimization into collective and meaningful activism that refuses to be silenced by the structures that oppress us.