Amid the ongoing protests that are still erupting in cities across the country George FloydThe fatal police encounter on Memorial Day in Minneapolis on July 17 marked the sixth anniversary of a previous police murder in New York City that also shocked the nation.
The viral cell phone video captured the chaotic scene of several NYPD wrestling officers Eric Garner Reportedly to the ground when he tried to arrest him for allegedly selling “loosies” (loose cigarettes) outside a Staten Island grocery store. The 43-year-old black man’s requests, “I can’t breathe,” were repeated uncanny by Floyd. They have become a collective call for the Black Lives Matter movement, police efforts to refinance, and initiatives to reform the judiciary.
Now Garner’s widow – Esaw Snipes-Garner – speaks for the first time BET.com about the man she fell in love with and with whom she had been married for decades, and the new film in which she starred in “American Trial: The Eric Garner Story”, which premiered on REELZ in June 2020 and now is streamed on Altavod. Directed by Roee Messinger, The non-written, hybrid fiction documentation shows the apparent process of Daniel Pantaleo, The NYPD official was accused of strangling Garner while in custody.
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Garner gasped and repeated eleven times that he couldn’t breathe. Shortly after the incident, he was pronounced dead in a local hospital. While his death was classified as a murder, a large jury declined to charge Pantaleo for the crime. However, Pantaleo was finally released from the department in 2019.
The film shows the former officer (played by an actor) and uses real lawyers, former New York state prosecutors, and “witnesses” to present facts to “the jury” – in this case, the audience – to determine guilt or innocence. There is no script: only real people and raw emotions from people like Snipes-Garner, who was married to him for about 25 years and provided “evidence” for the court documentation, which was told through a cinematic lens.
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“The film helped me with the healing process. Not that I healed anything, ”Snipes-Garner, 52, said in a recent phone interview. “For me it was a close-up murder. I think he [Pantaleo] should have gone to jail. ”
George Floyd’s death exposed the systemic problems that continue to plague many police departments across the country, where racial profiles and adverse policing are standard law enforcement practices. It kindled the country in a way we haven’t seen in decades, but for Snipes-Garner, Floyd’s death simply triggered a new round of pain and heartache.
“I cried like I’d see Eric die again,” she said. “The media used the video a lot [of Eric and police] as a reference point. I haven’t slept in days. I didn’t eat I was so annoyed everywhere. I tried not to see the news, but I couldn’t. It was terrible. I still feel it. ”
Snipes-Garner, a New Yorker by birth with African-American, Jewish and Indian roots, spent her early childhood in public housing at Marcy Projects in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Her mother later moved with her family to the Lindsay Park Housing Cooperative in Williamsburg.
She met Garner – a New Yorker – in the late 1980s, what she calls “one of those dating party lines”.
“I was 19 and 20 years old. Eric was 16 years old, 17. But he lied and said he was older,” she chuckled. “We spoke on the phone for days. And from there it started. We have become a couple. ”
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The two married in August 1989. “We had a big wedding in a small church where my husband’s grandfather, the pastor, married us. We had a reception in the common room. And then we went honeymoon for a week. … New York City! We were in a hotel near Broadway, ”she recalled.
While 2020 would have been three decades of marriage, the couple were reportedly separated when Garner died. Without going into more detail, Snipes-Garner makes it clear that regardless of where you were at the time of his death as a couple, she had lost the man she had loved most of her adult life.
Together they raised six children, including four biological siblings and their two oldest daughters from previous relationships. Still, she says Garner was a good father who accepted her daughters as his own. “He said whatever you want to do, I’m 100 percent with you.”
In terms of his personality, Snipes-Garner lovingly described her late husband as “a figure”.
“It was very funny. He loved to make people laugh. He was very intelligent. He was a math master. He could calculate like 1-2-3 in his head. When we were in the supermarket, I asked him: “How much do we have to spend? And what do I have to put aside?” [prices] and taxes, this and that. He would even tell me if we had enough to go out after. ”
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While most of the country saw Eric Garner in his last moments as a man suffering and gasping for breath, his wife wants to remember the man who had a “very generous” spirit and was known to many in their community.
“He would give everyone the shirt off his back. There was a homeless person on Staten Island and Eric bought him a sandwich every day. Another time, Eric brought some groceries to the supermarket for a young lady. He loved children. He would buy ice cream for every child in the park. ”
The generosity he showed to strangers was also practiced at home. “He had the girls do their hair every two weeks,” said Snipes-Garner. “Oh my God, [they] and my sons were so spoiled. ”
Numerous media reports have covered Garner’s earlier arrests and detentions, but Snipes-Garner says he has so much more to offer than this short-sighted account.
“He wasn’t just a street bully trying to sell cigarettes,” she said. “Everything he did was for his family.”
Garner was a graduate of the Automotive High School in [Brooklyn] and attended a year of technical college outside the state. He loved cars and worked as a diesel mechanic for Greyhound for some time. Because newer car and truck models required diagnostic tests that required increasing computer skills, Snipes-Garner said her husband’s ability to make a living suffered. He also had a long history of run-ins with the police, which took its toll both above and below the surface.
“As a young black man who grew up in New York, he had only major problems, including arrest,” she said. “Two years here, one year there, eight months there [in prison], it was terrible … It is so ironic that with his feelings towards the police it would ultimately be the police who killed him. ”
The past six years have not been kind to Snipes-Garner, and now she’s not only grieving for her spouse, but also for the loss of her daughter Erica, who died of a heart attack in 2017. Erica left two small children, Snipes-Garner and her daughter Emerald help with the upbringing. Before her death, Erica turned her pain into activism and fought to have the officials involved in her father’s death brought to justice.
RELATED: Eric Garner’s daughter Erica dies after a massive heart attack
“I believe in God with all my heart. If not, I would probably have killed myself or lost my mind. You have been with someone for 26 years, then they are suddenly gone. I never thought that I would live my golden years alone. ”
While taking part in demonstrations and vigils and occasionally giving interviews, Snipes-Garner leaves most public events to relatives. Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, represented the family by steadfastly advocating police reform and struggling to keep her son’s legacy alive.
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Today, on the anniversary of her husband’s death, Snipes-Garner said that her children and three grandchildren are likely to be at a family grill in their New Jersey suburb home.
“The children usually write to grandpa and read their thoughts out loud. And then we’ll release balloons, ”she says with the promise that love and prayers for grandpa will be taken to heaven.
Donna M. Owens is an award-winning multi-platform journalist. BET has covered every aspect of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s death in police custody, other social justice cases, and the aftermath and protests that followed. For our further reporting, click here.
Courtesy of Esaw Snipes-Garner; Platonic films.