Erica Garner talks to Nina Turner about how the loss of her father, Eric Garner, galvanized her activism for police accountability, and how she came to support Bernie Sanders
Nina Turner: Let’s get down to the real business of taking care of the people. We can’t have a testimony without a test, and we are being tested, whether we have courage enough, conviction enough, people power enough, to stand up and do what is right for ourselves and generations yet unborn. Joining me this week is Erica Garner. She’s a modern-day freedom fighter and activist, and one of my all-time favorite people. Erica, thank you for joining us this week.
Erica Garner: Thanks for having me.
Nina Turner: What are your thoughts about the political climate right now? I know that you are actively engaged, you’re not just somebody on the sidelines. You really came to this movement out of a traumatic experience in your family’s life, but you have been quite a champion in this movement. How are you feeling about this climate right now?
Erica Garner: Right now the focus is off. A lot of people’s focused on Donald Trump, I don’t believe that since the election, a lot of people is still focused on inequality, accountability, and police brutality.
Nina Turner: Speaking of that, can you just share with our viewers as much as you feel up to in terms of what happened to your father, Eric Garner, and how you were able to use that tragedy in your family to really put to the fore the whole notion of police accountability and transparency.
Erica Garner: Well about almost three years now my father was killed in the middle of the street. He was accused of selling cigarettes, but that wasn’t the real case. He was actually murdered, and nothing from police charges or anything, this guy’s still being, this murderer, Daniel Pantaleo is still on police payroll and actually he’s been getting bonuses every year since my father’s been gone.
Nina Turner: Has the New York police department done anything to transform, to change itself in ways that you feel are making progress given what happened to your father and what happens to so many others in the city and across the country?
Erica Garner: No, and it continues to happen. It’s not just what happened to my father, but continuously people are being killed on camera and off camera and nothing is being done about it.
Nina Turner: You were able to use some of that, a lot of that, I mean I watched you last year. You were attracted to Senator Bernie Sanders. What gave you the energy, and also I would say, the courage to use your pain, your family’s pain, your disappointment, but you decided to use that in a very positive way and join Senator Sanders in his pursuit to become president of the United States. You even, there’s a commercial that you created that was all the rage, but you did that yourself. Some people think the consultants did that, but you actually did that. You told your family’s story. You also talked about your hopes and your dreams being a mother.
Erica Garner: Our people died for this. Martin Luther King died for this. Malcolm X died for this. Who were they? They was protestors. I’m behind anyone who’s going to listen and speak up for us. I think we need to believe in a leader like Bernie Sanders.
Nina Turner: What gave you that inspiration to use something that was so painful, but you used it for a global good? Erica Garner: Just not having no one. Just being out there in the streets and just having the support from the people. What drawn me to Bernie Sanders was the fact that he promised to do something about the prescription pills that elderly people was, you know, its high cost. Some elderly people has just cut it in half. I liked his stance on tuition. I felt like, you know, my child and my future children wouldn’t be able to go to college, not because they not smart enough, it’s because of the high cost and tuition. And also, back in the day he was a protestor so he wasn’t scared to hit the streets and stand up for what he believe in. And his consistency. That’s what drawed me to him.
Nina Turner: You say he hit the streets.
Erica Garner: Yeah.
Nina Turner: He has some street credibility and you must be referring to how when he was 21 years old at the University of Chicago, he fought against segregation and discrimination, and as a matter of fact there’s a picture of him chained to an African American woman as the police are holding his hands behind his back. Did you know this about him beforehand? How did you become familiar with Senator Bernie Sanders?
Erica Garner: Actually I didn’t know anything about him, but once I started YouTubing and Googling, and seeing all these things that was about, I mean, this was a man that stood up in Congress in an empty room and kept on talking about the same things. Standing up for black people. I’m like wow, if he had the courage to go up against a lot of people, stand there when there’s no one around, no cameras. no one to impress, and then how he stood with BLM, when Black Lives Matter, when they reached out to him. Even me, he wasn’t lecturing me or rejecting me, or telling me what issues I should be believing. He didn’t push me away and tell me what I should be focusing on. He actually listened and that’s what I liked about Bernie Sanders.
Nina Turner: You’re a leader in your own right. Many people look up to you. They follow you on social media. I follow you on social media. You speak your truth and I know sometimes it’s not always easy. You and I shared moments together. I remember us being on the Apollo stage. Senator Bernie Sanders, and Charlemagne and Mr. Harry Belafonte. We were right there with them.
Erica Garner: Yes. That was an amazing moment too.
Nina Turner: Your relatives. Some of your family was there, but I remember you sharing with me that through the 2016 election, some people tried to tear you and your family apart because you decided to support Senator Bernie Sanders. As I remember it, you can correct me if I’m wrong, others in your family decided to support Secretary Clinton. That was a burden on you because you were doing what you believed in your heart. I know that you were not pleased by any stretch of the imagination, that people were trying to tear you and your family apart.
Erica Garner: Yes. It was just, you know, after I seen my grandmother and the mothers of the movement being paraded around.
Nina Turner: You mean at the Democratic Convention?
Erica Garner: Yeah. Basically the message of police brutality being some type of refocus on gun control. My dad didn’t die by a gun. He didn’t die by a fatal accident, by accidentally someone shot him. Somebody actually lynched him on national TV and I had to watch my father die on TV. That didn’t sit well with me. It’s people out there that wanted to pit me and my grandmother or me and others against each other. It was more like I wasn’t afraid to stand up and speak out. Yes I am a leader. I wasn’t taught to follow. I refused to follow anyone who’s not interested in the same interests that helped me.
Nina Turner: So Erica, I know the challenges, and the fight for accountability and transparency within the ranks of the police, but there are some police, women and policemen who go to work every day and they really do want to do the right thing. I personally know two of them. My husband is a former police officer, and my son, my baby is in law enforcement right now. He really takes his job very seriously in terms of protecting and serving. Not all police officers are, you know…so how do we as a community navigate some off the pressures that they are both feeling? Because many of them believe that in our fight, our collective fight, particularly African-American community for accountability and transparency, that somehow they are being brushed with the same broad stroke. That they’re all being labeled the same.
Erica Garner: Well, to that I would say we need more whistle blowers. We need more people who are transparent.
Nina Turner: Within the ranks of the …
Erica Garner: Within the ranks of law enforcement. Who are willing to take on accountability and to say, “You know what, these officers are wrong. I don’t agree with them.” Make it a point, this is not how our police or this is not how we all are. I don’t believe there are many police officers, good police officers out there trying to make a difference. Trying to speak up and make that a point that we are not the same. I hear this talk a lot that a lot of police officers aren’t the same, but when we look at these videos we don’t see at all, video after video of these killings that officers are standing up against the person that’s doing wrong to tell them to stoop.
Nina Turner: So you want to see good police officers stand up and speak out against officers who are not doing the right thing?
Erica Garner: Yes.
Nina Turner: Do you think that simple act would restore some of the faith?
Erica Garner: It would take more than that, but until these officers are being held accountable, and there’s transparency across the board, I don’t see really a change or a difference, but we can start by these officers who are good speaking out more and being a whistle-blower.
Nina Turner: Holding each other accountable.
Erica Garner: Yeah, holding each other accountable. Break that blue-wall silence.
Nina Turner: So Erica, I understand that you have a book coming out that you are taking some of that energy to write a book. The working title is “I Can’t Breathe”.
Erica Garner: I teamed up with best-selling author from Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi, and he actually wrote a book about my dad. It’s called “I Can’t Breathe,” but it also talks about how all these different people are connected to Eric Garner and has the same story as Eric Garner. How the criminal justice system is a constant flow to keep you going back and forth to court. Once you’re in the system you get …
Nina Turner: It’s hard to get out.
Erica Garner: It’s hard to get out, whether it’s court fines or imprisonment. If you can’t afford to pay these bills or court fines or whatever, you know you constantly going to deal with going back and forth to court and prison time. I have a book talking about my life, and how I became this …
Nina Turner: A memoir?
Erica Garner: Yes. A memoir. Just talking about how I became this strong person and everything in my life that I went through led me to this point.
Nina Turner: Are you, in your books, are you telling your life story to this point–because you got so much more life to live–until this point, are you, in the book, do you encourage people that despite some challenges that they may go through that they can make it?
Erica Garner: I’m hoping from the different stories that I’ve been through, that people can take that position for themselves. They can, I’m not telling you, what you should think or what she should do, but hopefully my stories can relate to so many.
Nina Turner: Yeah. It’s a testimony.
Erica Garner: Yes.
Nina Turner: What would you say to your generation and generations to follow, about what it takes to follow their dreams and follow their hearts, and to be courageous? If you had to tell them three things about navigating this space, what would those three things be?
Erica Garner: Regroup, organize, strategize. Don’t be a follower. Speak what you feel in your heart. Follow your instinct. If other people is not following you, then be that one to stand up by yourself, because eventually someone, you know, is going to stand up with you but don’t depend on somebody else or wait for somebody else. It takes you and then once you start standing up, people will follow.
Nina Turner: People will follow. So regroup, organize, strategize, don’t follow. Lead.
Erica Garner: Yes.
Nina Turner: Thank you so much, Erica. You are a leader in your own right, and I am so very proud of you. There are thousands, if not millions of people, even across the world who are so proud of you too. We are glad that you are one of the many women in that arena. So thank you so much.
Erica Garner: Thank you.
Nina Turner: You have been watching the Nina Turner show on the Real News network.