With symbolic acts of peace and calls for justice, New Yorkers on Friday publicly marked the anniversary of the death of Eric Garner in police custody.
At the site of his arrest in the Tompkinsville section of Staten Island, N.Y., his former companion, Jewel Miller, and Legacy Garner, the 1-year-old daughter Miller had with him, released a white dove as about two dozen people chanted, “I can’t breathe.”
That phrase became a rallying cry at protests that followed Garner’s death, which attracted national attention to issues surrounding race and use of force by police.
A video taken by a bystander during Garner’s arrest for selling untaxed cigarettes showed a police officer wrestling him to the ground and apparently placing him in a chokehold. Garner can be heard on the video saying repeatedly, “I can’t breathe.”
His death was ruled a homicide, but a local grand jury declined to bring charges against the New York police officer, Daniel Pantaleo.
The memorial event took place Friday morning at a sidewalk shrine to Garner at the site of his arrest. People have left bouquets atop a clear plastic box that contains several pink Teddy bears and notes of remembrance about the 43-year-old father of six.
Elizabeth McCollin, who lives a few doors down, stopped to watch the gathering on her way to run errands. She said residents in the neighborhood remained angry about Garner’s death.
“You see it in their faces when they walk by here. They are not pleased,” she said. “People still feel remorse over his death, especially knowing they didn’t get an indictment.”
Though the Garner family this week accepted a $5.9-million settlement from the city for damages related to his death, relatives and supporters continue to call for a federal investigation of Pantaleo’s actions.
“I think it is important to remind people that this man was choked to death a year ago, and the man who choked him and his accomplices are still free,” said Syler Pondolfino, a Staten Island resident who attended Friday’s ceremony.
Garner “was poor and struggling and maybe he did things to make money that weren’t standard, but he was not anyone who deserved the harassment that resulted in his death,” Pondolfino said.
In Lower Manhattan, a small group of protesters, some carrying signs that read “Justice for Eric Garner” and “Black Lives Matter,” gathered for a lunchtime rally.
Participants then took the ferry to Staten Island to continue the rally at the site of Garner’s arrest. Another rally was held Friday evening in Manhattan’s Columbus Circle, in addition to prayer services and concerts around the city commemorating Garner’s death.
At the House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn, the Rev. Herbert Daughtry led a candlelight service in Garner’s honor. In an interview earlier Friday, Daughtry said Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, and the relatives of about 20 other New York men and women who had been killed by police dating back to the 1970s had been invited to attend.
One concert Friday evening, titled “The Dream Unfinished: A Symphonic Benefit for Civil Rights,” raised money for organizations working for “civil rights, social justice, and an end to systemic racism.”
A message repeated at the various events was that supporters of Garner’s family would keep demanding a federal investigation into his death and reforms to police procedures so such deaths could be avoided.
“There is a community forming around this cause to break down an unfair justice system,” said Ilya Jalal, who described himself as a community activist in Staten Island. “People are coming together and talking. Things are not over. It’s just starting.”
Commemorations will continue over the weekend, with a large rally organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton and Garner’s family to be held Saturday in Brooklyn.