Following the death of her father, Erica Garner began speaking nationally on the subject of police terrorism against the Black community. Recently, she made one of her stops in Oakland.
Garner spoke at the Betty Ono Gallery in downtown Oakland on Apr. 9. Garner’s father, Eric Garner, died in July of 2014 as a result of a police officer putting him in an illegal chokehold. A Staten Island, New York grand jury ultimately decided not to indict the officer responsible for the chokehold.
Organizer Cat Brooks of ONYX (Organized to Act, Never Ceasing to Struggle, Youth Focused with Elder Guidance, Xercising the Right to Liberate our Communities) opened for Garner by speaking about the widespread trauma in America for Black citizens.
“It doesn’t have to happen on your block for it to be a triggering moment for you, for you to absorb all that trauma or the trauma of being Black for however many years you’ve been alive in this country,” Brooks said.
Brooks also spoke about the importance of Eric Garner’s last words “I can’t breathe,” saying that the phrase has done more than just energize the Black Lives Matter movement and community.
“Those words became the mantra for the words that Black people haven’t been able to find to describe what being Black in America is,” Brooks said.
After being introduced by Brooks, Garner talked about how her life changed after her father’s death. According to Garner, she began to view the media in a very different light. Before her father was killed, she trusted the media; after seeing how the news misrepresented her father’s character, her opinion drastically changed.
“It’s crazy how much the media can make you look good and how much it can make you look bad,” Garner said.
She also discussed the Apr. 4 shooting of Walter Scott in South Carolina as a recent example of police brutality in which a white police officer killed a Black man without cause. Although the police officer was arrested this time, Garner said she does not believe true change will come yet. She also questioned police accountability.
“This keeps on happening to the point where America is used to it,” Garner said. “We shouldn’t be used to our loved ones being killed on national TV. We shouldn’t be used to talking about it in our churches and our schools.”
Despite feeling like change has not come yet, Garner said she still believes it will happen someday. She encouraged voting and holding elected officials accountable if they do not stick to campaign promises as ways of starting to change the system.
“I feel like change will come, but just like Martin Luther King fought for civil rights, it’s going to take some time,” Garner said. “I feel like we should stay focused on that goal.”
Following Garner’s speech, a panel answered audience questions. Garner, along with the mothers of Oscar Grant and O’Shaine Evans (two young Black men killed in the Bay Area by police officers) spoke on the panel. Cepheus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson, leader of the Love Not Blood campaign, also spoke on the panel.
One audience question focused on the topic of trauma in Black communities. Uncle Bobby answered that, in dealing with trauma in his life, he tries to educate the community on how the country used institutionalized racism against them. Everyone will have a different way of responding to this racism, he said.
“Respond the way that you feel you need to to get your point across,” Uncle Bobby said. “I’m not going to condemn you if you break a window, because what is a building or a window compared to a life?”
Wanda Johnson, the mother of Oscar Grant, said she helps other mothers whose sons are killed by police to deal with the feelings of seeing their children become “demonized by the media.” She aims to find a space where these emotions can be talked about.
“As we’ve lost our loved ones, there is no place to go to talk about how my sisters feel, how I feel, after we’ve lost a child,” Johnson said. “The different stages of mourning, the anger, the frustration, wanting to get that person back. There’s no place set up for us to go.”
Another audience member asked the panel how they chose whether or not to watch a video related to a Black death by police. Garner said that seeing the video of her father helped her realize just how powerful his last words were.
“As horrible as it was to watch the video, I had to fully understand,” Garner said. “I had to watch it because I wanted to know the faces, I wanted to know their body language, I wanted to know exactly what they did, who touched him, who did what. And even though it was hard for me to watch, it helped me.”