Eric Garner's mother speaks at N.J. police brutality protest following the death of George Floyd
For Gwen Carr, seeing the nationwide protests over George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police feels like deja vu.
The 46-year-old Floyd’s s final words— “I can’t breath”— were the same as her own son, Eric Garner, who died after being wrestled to the ground in a chokehold by a white New York police officer in 2014, on suspicion of selling cigarettes. A grand jury voted to not indict the officer, inspiring protests in major cities across the country.
“It’s like deja vu all over again. But it’s something that’s necessary. The marches are to bring awareness, and once we bring awareness, now we have to see people stay on the forefront. We have to make America pay attention to us,” Carr said before giving a speech at a protest against police brutality in Roselle.
“I’m here today to commemorate all the stolen lives. There are so many stolen lives we don’t even know," she said.
Pressure on leaders for police reform must continue, Carr told a crowd of hundreds gathered at Warinanco Park. And she’s no stranger to fighting for change.
After her son’s death, Carr began advocating for the “Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act" to make it a felony in New York for an officer to engage in a chokehold - except in situations where they are protecting their own life. Gov. Andrew Cuomo publicly signed the bill into law on Friday.
“It’s a step in the right direction. That’s why I stay active. That’s why I stay on top of what’s going on... A lot of the time, change comes slow,” said Carr, whose son is buried nearby in a Linden cemetery.
She now wants to see the same action in other states and on the federal level.
In New Jersey, Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-20) said he and Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-35) are both sponsoring a series of bills being introduced in the coming weeks in the state legislature, including an anti-chokehold act similar to New York’s.
“In order for us to start breaking away at these barriers, legislative action is going to have to take place,” Holley said.
“I’m pleased to see (New Jersey is) following New York’s lead,” Carr said.
Protesters carrying signs gathered at a field in the park Sunday, listening to a line-up of speakers for about an hour before honoring those killed by officers. Organizers read aloud the names of dozens of police brutality victims, and released a black balloon for each name.
One protester, Yusuf Boriqua, of Elizabeth, stood alongside others holding a sign reading “End racist policing" and wearing a mask with the words “I can’t breathe."
The 44-year-old said he moved to New Jersey about 26 years ago, and has faced racial profiling from police since he was younger and while growing up in the Bronx. He pointed to a scar on his eyelid, which he said is from being pistol-whipped by a police officer at 12-years-old.
“You become desensitized to it," he said. “You can’t escape it anywhere you go... When you walk down the street and a police car rides past you, you can’t look them in the eye because that gives them a reason to stop you. So you’re walking nervous. All you can do is keep walking and hope they don’t bother you.”
Carr said people shouldn’t become discouraged if change isn’t immediate.
None of the responding officers involved in Garner’s death were charged, and a grand jury declined to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was filmed putting Garner in a chokehold. Pantaleo was fired from the department, but Carr is still calling on the other responding officers to be disciplined too.
“We have to stay on the battlefield," she said. "I’m still fighting for our grandchildren, I’m still fighting for the unborn, because they cannot keep killing our children. It does seem like deja vu, but we have to do this as many times as necessary.”