On Christmas Eve, Erica Garner (27), the eldest daughter of Eric Garner, was admitted to Woodhull Medical Center following a heart attack according to reports from The New York Daily News. From her official Twitter page, a self-named “worker” of Ms. Garner says that she is no longer in a coma, but is still in the Intensive Care Unit. Four months ago, Ms. Garner gave birth to her second child and has since had asthmatic medical issues stemming from an enlarged heart condition of which she was not aware.
Erica Garner gained national attention following the death of her father Eric Garner after he was suffocated to death by officer Daniel Pantaleo in 2014. Garner’s last words “I can’t breathe!” became a call to action as organizers and activists publicly demonstrated to bring attention to police brutality and State-sanctioned excessive force. Ms. Garner has been impressively and passionately vocal in her fight to demand justice for her late father, although her part in the broader for movement has been largely ignored in favor of more tame and marketable voices. Where others are desperately seeking proximity to political figures like Barack Obama and Bill de Blasio, Ms. Garner has not let their fame deter her from speaking uncomfortable and unsavory truths.
Erica Garner, armed with Black freedom fighting tenacity, is the reason I organize for the Liberation of Black people.
Erica Garner, armed with Black freedom fighting tenacity, is the reason I organize for the Liberation of Black people. Her work, story, and willpower motivates me to sacrifice my time, money, and body to get Black people free. And while our politics do not exactly align in all areas, I find strength in her unrelenting pursuit of police accountability.
But what’s most heartbreaking about Ms. Garner’s plight is that she is now a true example of how vicious white supremacy is. It lurks. It invades the Black psyche and body. It is the cause of chronic mental health and medical conditions. It is yet another force that aids in the slow and fast deaths of Black mothers. As Hari Ziyad wrote for Afropunk “[t]he news of her hospitalization follows a report by NPR exploring how systematic racism leads to Black mothers in the U.S. dying at three to four times the rate of white mothers. Anti-Blackness truly is unrelenting and multi-faceted, and Erica Garner knew this better than most.”
The NPR article Ziyad references tells the story of Shalon Irving, an Atlanta-area epidemiologist who died from high blood pressure complications three weeks after giving birth. Dr. Irving’s scientific work focused on how “structural inequality, trauma, and violence made people sick,” and added to the canon of data that shows how disparities between Black and white mothers is widening. The articles cites data from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene which finds that in New York City, the city in which Ms. Garner resides, Black moms are twelve times more likely to die than white moms.
The tragedy of Erica Garner, the asthmatic daughter of a man whose last words were “I can’t breathe,” is all of our burdens to hold.
But Ms. Garner, Dr. Irving, and the thousands of Black moms and parents, are more than colorless statistics. They are human beings deserving of our collective care and outrage. The tragedy of Erica Garner, the asthmatic daughter of a man whose last words were “I can’t breathe,” is all of our burdens to hold. And should we remain silent because her bout-it style of organizing does not align with the polite brand of Black organizing that might gain sympathizers (and never material wins), we too will remain complicit in her suffering.
As she lay hospitalized fighting to breathe, we must protect her and others like her from the viciousness of white supremacy. Our moral duty to do so goes beyond the ephemeral political expediency that has blighted our fight for Black Liberation in the social media era. To commit to the liberation of Black people is an ongoing, uncompromising effort that requires our focus and unwavering commitment. Praying and sending our positive thoughts Ms. Garner’s way is love, but fighting for and alongside her, even as she not fights to live, is Black loving power.