On this second day after a grand jury decided not to indict the police officer who killed her son, Gwen Carr stood on the very spot where he died and declared that through it all, “I am blessed.”
“No matter what happens his name will be remembered,” Carr said of her son, Eric Garner, 43.
Garner died July 17 after being wrestled to the ground in a chokehold by New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who, with a group of other officers, accosted Garner for allegedly selling untaxed loose cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk.A grand jury on Wednesday announced that it would not indict the officer, sparking anger, hurt and massive protests across New York City and throughout the country.
But on Staten Island where Garner was killed, his family and a steady trickle of supporters from the neighborhood were more reflective than enraged, more heartsick than hostile.
“I’d see him every single day, right there,” said Dianna McCrae, who has lived in an apartment above the spot where Garner was killed for almost 15 years. “It’s sad. Even sadder because of the way he died.”
McCrae said justice through the system might prove elusive, but surely justice will come.
“There will be justice,” McCrae said. “But I don’t know who will hand it out. Might not be the city, the state or the feds. But I hope when that officer goes to sleep at night he dreams about this.”
Ben Garner, Eric Garner’s father, had been holding a sometimes agitated vigil on the block much of the last two days. He rebuffed many reporters who asked for interviews and got into near fisticuffs with a local inebriated man who tried to make off with a camera crew’s pop-up tent.
“None of this is for you,” he barked at another seemingly drunken man making noise near the memorial. “This is for my son!”
Earlier in the afternoon, when msnbc broke news to Garner’s father that a judge had approved Richmond County District Attorney Daniel Donovan’s request to allow some evidence heard by the 23-person grand jury be released publicly, he looked on skeptically.
The grand jury met for 9 weeks, according to the limited information released Thursday. They heard from 50 witnesses, 22 of whom were civilians. The rest were police officers, emergency medical personnel and doctors. They reviewed 60 exhibits and 4 videos.
When asked if any of this brought him peace or made him feel the grand jury process, which Garner’s family says failed them, was that much more fair, he replied gruffly.
“Not one of them tried to save my son’s life. So none of that matters to me,” he said.
Garner’s mother said public statements made by Mayor Bill de Blasio, that her son’s death was a tragedy and made him afraid for his own bi-racial son’s interactions with police, gave her a bit of solace.
Following the announcement by the grand jury, Garner’s family was in contact with Attorney General Eric Holder, who later said the Department of Justice would be opening up a civil rights investigation into Garner’s death.
“I want justice for my son,” Carr said. “I’m just thankful we have other avenues to pursue now. I’m hopeful not just for my son but for the whole nation.”
Carr said the Justice Department investigation gives her hope that, “At least we’ll get a fair and just decision.”
Later on Thursday evening, about 6 p.m. and not far from McCrae, a group of about 40 people stood quietly across from a memorial marking the place where Garner was killed. A few younger women knelt to light or relight candles, while a mother cautiously guided her daughter, arms filled with a bouquet of flowers wrapped in clear plastic, to the perfect place for the offering.
The line of people locked arms.
“We are forming a human chain to say that this is a human rights issue,” said the Rev. Dr. Demetrius Carolina of the First Central Baptist Church in the nearby Stapleton neighborhood. “I dare say that Eric Garner’s life was worth more than some loose cigarettes.”
Carolina said that a coalition of clergy and community leaders have planned 15 actions calling for police reform in the NYPD to be spread throughout the month of December. Atop that list is a call for the governor to appoint a special prosecutor whenever there is a fatal cop-involved shooting.
“There is an inherent subjective relationship among district attorneys and the police,” Carolina said. “There is also an inherent inequality in the justice system that we need to address.”
As the line of linked-armed supporters lengthened by one after another demonstrator, the head of the coalition, the Rev. Catherine Barrett Layne, stood up and called out, “Let us be peaceful, but let us be vigilant!”
A drummer banged away on a drum as the line broke and marched to the Richmond County District Attorney’s office about a half-mile away.