Racial justice activist Erica Garner died Saturday at the age of 27, days after going into cardiac arrest and less than four years after her father was put in a choke hold and killed by police while repeating, “I can’t breathe.”
Garner’s official Twitter account wrote that, “She passed away this morning. The reports are real. We didn’t deserve her.”
Just last month in a Marshall Project and New Yorker video, Garner relived the moment when she got the call from her sister about her father’s death -– a day that forced her to become a leader.
On July 17, 2014, her father Eric was arrested outside a market on Staten Island by several police officers and put in a choke hold by Officer Daniel Pantaleo because they thought he was selling loose cigarettes.
Erica’s sister told her on the phone, “Oh my god, Erica, I just got some bad news. I don’t know, mom is hysterical. She’s crying. She’s just yelling out that he stopped breathing.”
When Erica arrived, she saw a cell phone video of her father being taken down by several officers, while saying “I can’t breathe” 11 times and falling unconscious. He died at the hospital.
The coroner declared his death a homicide, though no one has been charged and Pantaleo is still on the New York Police Department’s payroll, according to NPR.
Eric Garner’s last words became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement, which protests systematic police racism and the violence against black people. It provoked Erica Garner, a “daddy’s girl,” to engage her father’s advice.
“Everything that my dad told me, ‘You have to be a leader. You have to lead by example,’ now I understand why,” Garner said in the video.
Showing up to rallies with allies and giving interviews for major outlets, she used her voice and platform to demand more transparent and accountable policing, speaking out against a lack of it in her father’s case.
My rock, my friend, you served us well.. I can’t believe it.. a woman with such a beautiful spirit.. Thank you for confiding in me w/ your ideas, your personal life, your goals. I loved every moment, & every long phone call. Thank you for being.. you. I love you @es_snipes 😭😭 pic.twitter.com/EXUTvQgfR2
— Ja'Mal Green (@JaymalGreen) December 30, 2017
“I truly believe that we’ve been fighting for a couple years now. We’ve been begging for something to be done. We’ve been talking to our local councilmen and women and we’re tired of having the same conversation,” she told Brian Lehrer at WNYC on the two-year anniversary of her father’s death. “We demand answers. We demand actions.”
And in a video last year endorsing Bernie Sanders for president, she explained why she was an activist.
“I’m just trying to get the truth out there to tell his side of the story,” she said. “He was being a loving, caring man that he was, and he was murdered. For a whole year, I’ve protested every Tuesday and Thursday. I feel like a representative for people throughout this whole nation because I’m doing this, I’m speaking out, me being his daughter. And that’s what I want to do, I just want to tell my truths.”
Since her father’s death, Erica has had two children, including a child in August whom she named after her father.
She suffered a heart attack shortly after the delivery because doctors said the pregnancy stressed her already enlarged heart, according to the New York Daily News.
Then, just days before Christmas, she went into cardiac arrest. A lack of oxygen caused severe brain damage and she was put into a medically induced coma, according to her official Twitter account.
But just like in her father’s case, the cause of death does not convey the trauma of a lifetime spent fighting racism and the toll it takes on black people’s bodies.
NPR recently documented correlations between racism and the disproportionate birthing complications black mothers face throughout generations, often despite socioeconomic statuses or education levels.
“It’s hard to find any aspect of life that’s not impacted by racial discrimination,” Richard David, a neonatologist at the University of Illinois of Chicago, told NPR.
Erica’s official Twitter account became a living memorial on Saturday, retweeting people’s warm words while also calling on New York Mayor Bill de Blasio for comment.
de Blasio … explain how she died with no justice.
— officialERICA GARNER (@es_snipes) December 30, 2017
My fondest memory of @es_snipes was in 2015, seeing her and Ms. Carr at the Staten Island courthouse where groups argued for the release of the #EricGarner grand jury transcripts. They NEVER mince their words. https://t.co/sRqLs2pR3D
— Aaron L. Morrison (@aaronlmorrison) December 30, 2017
— Hey Auntie… (@Delo_Taylor) December 30, 2017