A little over a year ago, I saw Erica Garner as she was getting ready for an interview with Amy Goodman on “Democracy Now!.” While I never personally interacted with her, news of her death this past week has been hard to digest.
Erica had profound conviction and drive in seeking justice for her father. During interviews in early January and July 2016, she spoke of the exhaustion of grieving in the public spotlight, as well as her frustration with the NYPD, which was protecting the officer who killed her father. Watching those interviews, I was struck by her humility and strength. It seems perverse that her fight against the justice system that killed her father would also ultimately kill her.
The daughter of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man killed by the NYPD in 2014, Erica Garner is not the only activist who has died from the stress of demanding accountability for her loved ones. Venida Browder, the mother of Kalief Browder, the young man who hung himself after being imprisoned at Rikers Island for over three years, died in October 2016 due to complications from a heart attack likely caused by the stress of seeking justice for her son.
Venida and Erica are just some of the many Black women who have have lost their lives because of the impact of institutional racism on their physical and mental health. Indeed, institutional racism is not only a matter of rights, but also the cause of a public health crisis that disproportionately affects Black women. Black women in the United States are disproportionately more likely to suffer from diseases, like breast cancer, diabetes, fibroids, and others. As Zoe Carpenter pointed out in The Nation last February, black women are four times more likely to die from pregnancy complications than their white counterparts. According to the Pacific Standard, Black Americans from low-income neighborhoods are as likely to die by the age of forty-five as white Americans are by the age of sixty-five. Predominantly black neighborhoods across the country are much more likely to experience environmental disease, and the health complications that come with it, and are much less likely to have adequate health facilities or markets to purchase affordable and healthy food.
Also writing for The Nation last February, Dani McClain highlighted how these disparities are not just a result of poverty, but rather a product of biases held by health providers about Black patients, as well as stress that accumulates from regularly experiencing racism. As Dani McClain noted, “There’s something about the American experience that tears away at the black body.”
Just weeks before she passed away, Erica Garner gave an interview on the online news show, “Like It Or Not” with Benjamin Dixon, and spoke directly to how the killing of her father and her commitment to obtaining justice for him was impacting her. “I had to see [my father] die on national TV… I felt the same pain that my father felt on that day when he was screaming ‘I can’t breathe,’ when he was saying that he was tired of getting harassed, tired of getting arrested… I’m in this fight forever.”
Erica was fierce and committed. I’m going to remember all of that PLUS her smile at the end of this clip pic.twitter.com/0XatsZYW3W
— Benjamin Dixon (@BenjaminPDixon) December 28, 2017