Eric Garner, State Violence, and the Myth of the Absent Black Father
This piece originally appeared on Let Your Voice Be Heard! Radio.
These past few weeks have been particularly troubling around the world; between the Malaysian Flight 17 tragedy, the ongoing attacks on Gaza, and the horrible treatment of immigrant children at the US-Mexican border. In the midst of all this, New Yorkers and the Black community at large lost another Black man to the system.
On Thursday, July 17th, in Staten Island New York, 43 year-old Eric Garner was allegedly leaving the scene of a fight between two young men after breaking it up. The family man, who was described as a gentle giant, was stopped by NYPD officers. In a video courtesy of a bystander, you can hear Garner remark that “every time you see me, you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it…please just leave me alone.” It should be said that the video is not for the faint of heart, as you see Garner struggle for his life and his unjust and ultimately end.
Officers Daniel Pantaleo and Officer Justin Damico put a chokehold on a man who was asthmatic to subdue him, a maneuver that is not only illegal, but highly immoral, as Garner repeatedly tells them “I can’t breathe!” Near by EMTs did not act until it was entirely too late and a nearby superior NYPD sergeant did nothing to stop Pantaleo and Damico. Even with Pantaleo and Damico off of the streets, having had their guns and shields taken away; nothing will bring back Eric Garner.
Six children lost their father, a mother lost her son, a wife lost her husband. In a society that bombards us with images of the “absent Black father” and reality television shows that glorify and perpetuate the “baby-mama-drama” stereotypes; what does it mean when a community loses a positive example of Black fatherhood? Esaw Garner became a widow, and now will face the “single-Black-mother” trope because of state violence. The media caricatures of Black families is commercially viable and accepted by those who consume mainstream culture – most recently evident in the case of suspended News 12 New Jersey Reporter Sean Bergin who eventually resigned – despite the myths of the “absent Black father” being consistently debunked. This messaging has gotten to the point where President Obama himself has emphasized the need of Black fathers to be present andseemingly do better, even if studies show that father’s of color already are doing just that. Growing up in a loving home is a privilege in and of itself, but when a father is taken away through violent means; whether it be through the prison industrial complex and mass incarceration, or through law enforcement as it is with this case – what will be the lasting impacts for his loved ones?
In a political climate that saw a form of justice come decades later for the “Central Park Five,” the “Stand Your Ground” appeal of Marissa Alexander denied once again despite new legislation nicknamed after her, and a “#myNYPD” social media campaign justifiably backfiring, what will the “Justice for Eric Garner” call transform into? Social media has it’s troublesome moments, but there continues to be a stream of love and support for Eric Garner, his widow Esaw Garner and their children. The National Action Network and the Reverend Al. Sharpton organized a rally in Harlem and a subsequent vigil in Staten Island, condemning the NYPD and calling for swift justice. But how will justice be served when an internal NYPD investigation has thus far not cited Damico and Pantaleo with any wrong doing and with Commissioner Bill Bratton quoted as saying that he didn’t think Garner’s death was about race?
Ultimately, the death of Eric Garner is a only the latest reflection of a institutionally racist society that devalues the lives of people of color to point where this is normalized. Trayvon. Renisha. Rahmarley. Sean. Amadou. Through initiatives such as “stop-and-frisk” and “broken windows,” policing has gone from keeping communities safe to reinforcing the socio-economic and racial hierarchies that sustain American (Western) culture. Even in the age of a “de Blasio” New York City and a “Obama” United States where we are led to believe otherwise, people of color continue to experience violence at the hands of state. Unfortunately, this is likely to continue until there is tangible change not only in policies and legislation, but in the collective consciousness of humanity as well. Until then, none of us can truly breathe.