Mothers stand united at Eric Garner rally: 'This club is full. It's closed.'

Mothers stand united at Eric Garner rally: 'This club is full. It's closed.'
A demonstrator holds a sign calling for justice at a rally in New York on Saturday marking the one-year anniversary of the death of Eric Garner. (Mary Altaffer / Associated Press)

At a rally on Saturday marking the one-year anniversary of Eric Garner’s death, his mother was joined on stage by other mothers whose sons  were killed in high-profile confrontations with police or security officers. Together, they made an impassioned plea that their situations not be repeated.

"We know next time, it could be your child," said Gwen Carr, Garner's mother, to a crowd of several hundred people who had gathered in Brooklyn to demand the federal prosecution of New York City police officers involved in his death on July 17, 2014.


"This club is full. It's closed," she said to cheers from the crowd.

Carr was joined by Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, fatally shot in 2012 by a man on community patrol in Sanford, Fla., Wanda Johnson, whose son Oscar Grant was fatally shot by a transit police officer in Oakland in 2009, and Lesley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown, killed by police in Ferguson, Mo., last August.

"We need to stick together as one," Johnson said. "We need to keep fighting. We will continually keep fighting.

"Do not wait until something happens to your child. We need your support," Fulton added in her brief remarks.

That was the message brought by a string of speakers, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, who counseled the families after their sons’ deaths. “We stand together. We don’t care how long it takes. We can’t breathe and we need to breathe,” he said.

Sharpton's "we can't breathe" statement echoed words uttered by Garner during his arrest for selling untaxed cigarettes on the sidewalk in Tompkinsville on Staten Island. In a video shot by a bystander, Garner can be heard saying "I can't breathe" 11 times after Officer Daniel Pantaleo placed him in an apparent chokehold and hung on as police wrestled Garner to the ground.

Garner's death was ruled a homicide but a local grand jury declined to bring criminal charges against Pantaleo, who remains on desk duty.

"We know the politics of local grand juries. We weren't looking for anything there," Sharpton said. "We need federal intervention on the civil rights of Eric Garner."

Saturday's rally was held in Cadman Plaza in downtown Brooklyn in front of federal buildings that house the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York and the offices of the U.S. attorneys who work in that district and whose jurisdiction includes Staten Island.

Referring to U.S. Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch, who previously served as U.S. attorney in the Eastern District, Bertha Lewis, a founding member of the Working Families Party, told the crowd to appreciative roars: “I love Loretta Lynch, but if you can indict FIFA, then you can bring an indictment in the Eric Garner case.”

The Department of Justice opened a federal civil rights investigation after the local grand jury declined to indict the New York officers in December, but has made no further statements about it.

Participants at the rally came from a broad cross-section of the city — families with young children, union members and representatives of activist groups.

Brandon Holmes, civil rights organizer for the community group Vocal NYC, said he came out to add his voice to the calls for justice for Garner.

"We are tired of the city letting us down so many times in the grand jury process," Holmes said. "We're demanding that the federal government hold the city accountable."

Anthony Peterson, who attended the rally with other members of the healthcare workers' union, said inaction in the Garner case was a "major disrespect" to the community.

"It's been a whole year and nothing has happened to the officers," Peterson said. "A lot of innocent people are being killed across the country and nothing is happening."

Saturday's rally was one of many events held in New York to mark the anniversary of Garner's death. Garner's family this week also accepted a $5.9-million settlement from the city to drop a lawsuit seeking damages for his death. The city did not admit liability.