Erica Snipes Garner will be laid to rest today. Just 15 days ago, she was admitted to Woodhull Medical Center following a heart attack. Fourteen days ago, her mother, Esaw Snipes, confirmed her daughter was in a coma amid complications. Eleven days ago, Erica was pronounced brain dead with no chance of recovery. Nine days ago, she left us.
Mortality is as inevitable as its timing is unpredictable. It took all of seconds for the air to be robbed from her father’s lungs when NYPD unjustifiably placed him in a policy-prohibited chokehold in 2014. An asthmatic, Eric Garner suffered a heart attack and died on the way to the hospital. And since the death of her father, Erica made it her mission to campaign for justice, along with police accountability for the countless others who had been wrongfully killed and/or mistreated during encounters with law enforcement.
A “die-in” sought to bring together a community in a fight against injustice. The Garner Way Foundation was created “to engage communities all over the world in this struggle through, political awareness, music, arts, and community activism.” Her voice, tireless and unremitting, reverberated her cause across media and beyond. Erica was more than an activist. In many ways similar to those who sought retribution for their loved ones before her, she was her father’s final breath—pained, persistent, and fighting to be heard.
Her death has since stirred up a barrage of feelings and conflict. Most have taken to social media to mourn and express their condolences. Others, provoked by a tweet sent from her account by a representative requesting that non-Black journalists refrain from requesting comment regarding her death, have found themselves reeling. Most notably, a past conversation surrounding Erica’s alleged homophobia in connection with her “caping” for Ramsey Orta, the Staten Island man who faced legal backlash upon filming Eric’s fatal arrest, has resurfaced. Though Orta was sentenced to four years in prison for possession of a weapon and drug charges, supporters nationwide maintained that NYPD targeted Orta for filming Eric’s death. He also once faced backlash for alleged homophobic comments.
With social media conversation shifting and growing at an expeditious rate, we know tweets are continuously buried (and lost) in a sea of public discourse that, oftentimes, is problematic and ill-informed. That said, it is unclear what Orta may or may not have said to be accused of homophobia. It is also unclear where Erica may have stood in her views regarding the LGBTQ community, or whether or not she was aware of Orta’s beliefs. But at this point, that should not matter.
We cannot expect that all who are called to activism must show up perfect—personally or politically—especially those abruptly called onto the field in the wake of the death of a loved one. While it’s important that communities hold folks accountable for error—especially when that error is harmful to marginalized people, #CancelCulture has seemingly left no space to teach. Or learn. Or grow.
If we turn our backs on our own for being human, then who does that leave us in our fight against injustice? Can we afford to leave everyone behind? And in the same way that we so quickly condemn others for their ignorance, are we using that energy to simultaneously address our own? Again, Erica may not have been perfect, but she died amid an honest fight to seek justice for someone she loved. She died fighting for us. As Erica is laid to rest, so should our vitriol.