Speaking before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, spoke passionately about her late son and the officer who killed him with a chokehold in 2014. In her statement, Carr emphasized how the lack accountability of the officer and NYPD tore through her family after Garner’s death.
Carr provided her testimony for the panel’s oversight hearing on policing practices surrounded by other witnesses including Rev. Al Sharpton and retired tennis player James Blake, who in 2015 was charged at and handcuffed by a plainclothes cop who had mistaken him for someone else.
In her address to the committee, Carr recounted the day that her son died, more than five years ago on July 17, 2014. She said that day she had called Garner to remind him of a family reunion they’d be attending, to which he asked her what he could bring. They ended the call by saying, “I love you.”
“My entire life was uprooted on July 17, 2014. I felt helpless, in a dark place, scattered into a million pieces. It’s impossible to fully describe the pain and anguish of losing a child, and then having the added burden of finding out what exactly happened from those who were responsible for his death,” Carr said.
In July, five years after Garner’s death, the Department of Justice decided it would not seek federal charges against Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who put Eric Garner in the chokehold that ended his life. Last month, the New York Police Department finally fired Pantaleo following a judge’s recommendation.
“Most people cannot even comprehend how difficult it is to suddenly lose a loved one, and then have to fight for years to get an ounce of accountability. For my family and I, the trauma has impacted our lives in devastating ways,” she continued.
The death of Eric Garner has been followed by even more tragedy in Carr’s family. Eric’s daughter Erica, a beloved activist, suddenly passed away in December 2017 from a heart attack. And just two months ago, Carr’s husband Ben passed away.
“In the end, I say she died of a broken heart,” Carr said of her granddaughter.
Carr went on to call upon Congress to pass the Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act, which New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries first introduced in 2015, which would federally criminalize the use of chokeholds. While she wasn’t able to share her entire written testimony, the version disclosed online shows Carr was going to ask Congress to push the Department of Justice to pursue and prosecute police misconduct such as excessive force.
“To some, Eric Garner was just another story, another topic till they moved on to the next,” Carr wrote. “For me, he was my everything.”
“I buried him 5 years ago because an officer decided to use a banned chokehold,” she added. “The DOJ failed to bring charges, and it took 5 years for him to even get fired. How is this justice I ask?”