I stepped onto the Staten Island Ferry and made my way to the civil rights vigil in memory of Eric Garner, a 43 year old father of six who was brutally murdered by a member of the Staten Island police department almost 90 days ago. I felt uneasy as I stared out through the dusty plexiglas ferry windows, gazing at the vastness of the water that served as the connection of these two islands. It was a feeling that could only be attributed to what this vigil represented the awareness of the blatant injustice that black people continue to endure at the hands of “authorities”. Its meaning was twofold: to memorialize the life of Eric Garner and as equally important to continue to speak out and demand justice. This realization became more and more evident as I neared my destination.
I disembarked the ferry and instantly a calm took over my body. A native New Yorker, however; oddly enough it was my first time on Staten Island. I felt that this was the perfect reason to become acquainted. To take a stand for justice would be the ideal introduction.
I anxiously made my way down the street toward the faint chants in the distance. I couldn’t make out the words that were being spoken but the rhythm of their chants fueled my energy. My stride got wider with anticipation; my shoulders pressed back almost intuitively, my chin rose just a bit higher with pride. I knew that this was something I wanted to be a part of; something I wanted to document and a cause I wanted to rally for! I wanted justice for Eric Garner and justice for all black males across the country that had recently been systematically targeted solely based on the color of their skin.
I inched closer to the federal building on Bay Street; the small crowd of protestors was now visible. They were few in number but their spirit and power of their message rang as loud as if there were thousands. The protestors held self-made signs high with pride yet with an abundance of sadness. Some signs simply read: “ERIC” undoubtedly noting that he was not forgotten and forever in their minds. I stood back and visually panned the small crowd and a single figure rocked my body to the core. Set in the middle of that crowd perched in a chair holding a sign that read: “Help Stop the Violence” was Eric Garner’s mother. At that moment my heart was filled with sadness which quickly brought water to well up in my eyes. No mother should have to endure a pain as great as losing a child but especially losing one at the hands of those that have sworn to protect. As I focused on her the protestors continued their mantras.
“THEY SAY GET BACK!…WE SAY FIGHT BACK!” they chanted in unison lead by the energetic Staten Island National Action Network president and relative of Eric Garner, Cynthia Davis. There were moments when her voice was labored and strained but she was not wavered by fatigue or by heartache – only motivated to press on in the name of justice. She held her bullhorn close and with each breath she was determined to extinguish the injustices that have recently plagued her community and countless communities across the United States, a plaque that has now hit her so close to home.
“WHAT DO WE WANT?” she cued. “JUSTICE!” The protestors replied. “WHEN DO WE WANT IT? Cynthia bellowed. “NOW!”
With conviction; Cynthia Davis lead the charge of that small crowd in front of the Federal Building as passing cars slowed down momentarily to blow their horns as a gesture of solidarity and community support.
The awareness that Cynthia Davis, Eric Garner’s mother and countless protestors are diligently spreading is the fact that the officer who killed Eric Garner has not been charged. As the protestors stand out in front of the Federal Building in the chill of an October evening holding up signs and asking for the “end to violence” and asking for justice for a son and for a father – Eric Garner’s murderer sits home. It’s truly disheartening that our society is slowly moving back to a time reminiscent of the sixties when brutal attacks against blacks were the norm and went unpunished.
Family member, Stephanie Skinner spoke about the pain the family is in but she also spoke about change. “We are determined to make a difference and speak out and openly about the injustices occurring in our community and other communities around the world; we are not just doing this for black people but for all people regardless of race.” She stated. The family has made that commitment to stand up for justice knowing that we cannot continue to allow these murders to continue without proper recourse and without holding these individuals accountable for their actions.
90 days have passed and the crowds of protestors are dwindling. However; the Garner family has resolved to keep the memory of what happened to Eric in the fore fronts of the minds and hearts of all that will hear their cries for justice.
As I board the Staten Island Ferry back to Manhattan I gaze back peering at the mound of land that becomes smaller and smaller in the distance. The tension returns to my body with the vivid cognizance of the ominous dark cloud hovering over that island. The ferry removes me further and further away from the situation but the family’s pain and a communities’ turmoil remains constant and will remain this way for days, weeks and months to come. Eric Garner’s family is forever broken. Eric was the father of six children who will never have time with him again; his mother, countless family members and friends will mourn his loss and continue to ask themselves why did he have to die? Where’s the justice?
So let’s not let the momentum die down, we can’t get tired, we cannot become complacent. We have to continue to demand that these individuals who are put in a position to protect but instead are systematically killing people of color are stopped and held accountable for their actions.
No Justice! No Peace!
Vigils for Eric Garner will be held in front of the Federal Building at 41 Bay Street, Staten Island, NY every Tuesday and Thursday at 4:00 pm until charges are filed against his murderer. For more information visit: www.nationalactionnetwork.net.