On the eve of the five-year anniversary of Eric Garner’s death, the Department of Justice declined to charge Garner’s killer — NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo — with any crimes.

Nearly five years ago, Pantaleo fatally strangled Garner — an unarmed father of six — on the streets of Staten Island after stopping him for selling loose cigarettes. His death was recorded by bystander Ramsey Orta, and the video spread widely on social media. Eric Garner’s last words, “I Can’t Breathe,” became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement in nationwide protests that erupted in December of 2014, after a grand jury convened by the Staten Island district attorney declined to indict Pantaleo.

Three years later, Garner’s daughter, Erica, died of a heart attack at the age of 27. Erica Garner became a nationally recognized police reform activist in the wake of her father’s death, and once told her a story in a four-minute ad for Senator Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vermont) 2016 presidential campaign. In a 2018 article for Elle, Melissa Harris-Perry wrote that Erica Garner’s death at such a young age was brought on by the “the physical stress of racism” many black women have to endure every day, simply by existing in a society that is harmful to them.

In New York City, where Erica Garner lived and where she died less than 6 months after giving birth to her second child, black women are 12 times more likely than white women to die of pregnancy-related causes. Black women are more than twice as likely as white women to experience preterm birth and more than three times more likely to give birth to low birth weight infants. Babies born to black women are more than twice as likely to die before their first birthday as babies born to white women. None of these disparities improve when we account for socioeconomic status, health insurance, or even alcohol and tobacco use. Indeed, the gap is wider between black and white women with higher income and educational attainment.

According to decades of medical research, this happens to black mothers and their babies because of the physical stress of racism. And it is not just experiences of racial discrimination during pregnancy, data shows “birth outcomes are influenced by events and experiences that occur prior to pregnancy.” When we are called the n-word for the first time in 3rd grade, or when our college roommate jabs us with micro-aggressions through freshman year, or our co-workers insist on touching our hair, our bodies store stress hormones that seem to poison our future babies. As if our bodies are telling them, it is not safe here.

Following the announcement that federal prosecutors would not bring charges against Pantaleo, Eric Garner’s daughter, Emerald, stood outside the courthouse, where the media was assembled. When one reporter asked her to move, Emerald refused, saying, “Don’t tell me where to stand. I’m gonna stand right here.”

Emerald then told the reporters assembled that she wasn’t interested in any condolences as she grieved her father and her sister, and reminded them that her father’s killer was not only a free man, but still on the police force.

“If Eric Garner would have fought back, he would’ve been in a fucking jail cell. He would have been in a jail cell. Under the jail! So don’t tell me you want to send your condolences,” Emerald Garner said. “My sister died fighting for justice. She died! She’s dead! She’s gone! My father is gone! No one gives a fuck! They came in that room, and they send their condolences? Five years later, I don’t want no fucking condolences. I don’t want no condolences. I want my father, and I want my sister! How about that?”

Pantaleo is not only a free man and an active police officer, but is now making more money than he did prior to his fame. In fiscal year 2016, Pantaleo was paid a salary of $120,000, after making approximately $105,000 in fiscal year 2015. Ramsey Orta, who filmed Garner’s death, is currently in prison on unrelated charges. Orta alleges he became the victim of police harassment as a result of capturing Garner’s death on video, and says corrections officers regularly beat him and place him in solitary confinement.


Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.

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