Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, sat before Congress on Thursday and relived the death of her son at the hands of police, as part of a hearing on distrust between law enforcement officers and the communities where they work.
“Five years ago, my beloved son Eric was murdered by people who were supposed to serve and protect,” Carr said in front of the House Judiciary Committee.
Garner died after New York police Officer Daniel Pantaleo placed him in a chokehold during a 2014 arrest for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. Video of the incident spread widely online, precipitating protests against police violence and calls for greater police accountability. The NYPD official responsible for training recruits said Pantaleo used a chokehold, an illegal tactic banned since the 1990s, to restrain Garner.
“Eric cried out 11 times, ‘I can’t breathe,’” Carr said Thursday. “But those officers who were on the scene that day, they didn’t seem to care.”
In July, Rev. Al Sharpton successfully petitioned Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) for a hearing on police misconduct. Sharpton met with several New York lawmakers following the Justice Department’s announcement this summer that Pantaleo wouldn’t face federal charges.
On Thursday, Carr questioned why neither Pantaleo nor any of the officers who witnessed the incident have been charged for her son’s death. Attorney General William Barr decided in July not to bring charges against Pantaleo, despite a recommendation from the Justice Department’s own civil rights division that the case move forward.
“All the officers who were on the scene need to stand accountable for his death that day,” Carr said.
She urged Congress to support the Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act ― a 2015 bill introduced by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) that would outlaw chokeholds under federal civil rights law ― when it is reintroduced to Congress later this year.
Carr also used some of her time to describe the trauma Garner’s death wrought upon her family. Carr’s husband, Ben Carr, died two months prior to Thursday’s hearing.
“He was my partner in every sense of the word,” she said. “He fought the long fight with me.”
Erica Garner, Eric Garner’s daughter, died in 2017 at age 27 after a heart attack. She’d spent three years demanding justice for her father.
“She fought until she became ill,” Carr said of Erica. “I say she died of a broken heart.”
Thursday’s hearing featured participants from different backgrounds and with various political leanings. Sharpton, a longtime advocate for criminal justice reform, sat alongside Patrick Yoes, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, who has said the decision to fire Pantaleo for choking Garner amounted to “political expediency.”
“For too long communities across the country have lived under the weight of discriminatory policing and we’re calling for a transformation of our policing and criminal justice systems,” Sharpton tweeted on Thursday.
During President Donald Trump’s time in office, many police reform measures instituted under President Barack Obama have been abandoned or curtailed. The Justice Department has sought to nullify consent decrees requiring local police departments to make their practices more equitable, and it has shrunk the size of the policing unit within DOJ’s civil rights division.