We are here this evening because on July 17, 2014 a NYC police officer killed Eric Garner, a 43-year old unarmed black man, with a choke hold that had been banned for over 25 years, but not outlawed.
We are here because a grand jury decided to not go forward with a trial after hearing in which a prosecutor confused the jury rather than push for an indictment. There was clearly enough evidence, enough to present to the grand jury for two months!
We are here because the entire nation saw the police kill unarmed Eric Garner on youtube!
We are here because in the four months that we waited for justice for Eric Garner, more unarmed black folks have been killed by police officers around the nation and not one of them has been held accountable for their actions. Instead, they have received leave time with pay. It’s as though they are rewarded for their behavior with paid vacation.
We are here because the failure to indict demonstrates yet another unjust bias in a system that is already stacked against African Americans.
We are here not only because of Eric Garner. We are here because last week they failed to indict Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown, and while we were still trying to catch our breath in Ferguson, they failed to indict in NYC, and not long into our shocked gasp over the NYC failure to indict, our hearts are choked by the news that charges against an officer were dropped after he shot and killed 7-year old Aiyana Stanley Jones while she was sleeping on the couch in her house.
I am here because as Garner said in his final words, “I. Can’t. Breathe.” And we haven’t been breathing well for a long time: As Franz Fanon said "When we revolt it’s not for a particular culture. We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe.”
We rally because our children can’t breathe. I have two boys. Two black boys. Someday those black boys will grow up to be black men. After a jury acquitted George Zimmerman of killing unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, I wrapped my arms around my boys and squeezed their brown bodies tightly. After the grand jury refused to indict any police officers for killing John Crawford who carried a toy gun sold by Walmart in a Walmart store, I wrapped my arms around my brown babies as tightly as I could. After a grand jury refused to indict Darren Wilson, I squeezed them tighter and feared to ever let them go. Upon news of the grand jury failing to indict Daniel Pantaleo I wanted to squeeze them tighter, but I knew I could not, because I’m already squeezing them too tight, trying to protect them from a problem I cannot control, a problem that is not. their. fault.
We are here because we cannot squeeze the breath from our children trying to protect them from professional law enforcement who are supposed to be protecting them and us. We cannot teach them to be nice enough, pleasant looking enough, well spoken enough, smart enough, at home enough to guarantee that they are safe in a society wherein 7-year and 12-year old children can be killed on the couch in their sleep, or at a park while playing, by law enforcement professionals who face no accountability for their actions. We cannot speak well of safety in a society that will not hold professionals accountable for unjustly taking lives that look too dark or too big or too different!
We are here because a black teen is 21 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than a white teen.
We are here because we want to live in a society in which our laws protect the value of all lives.
We are here because all life matters.
We are here to say something that should not need to be said: black. lives. matter!