After her NYPD arrest, Eric Garner's mother Gwen Carr says it's her duty to fight Trump
Gwen Carr's daughter teased her, once she learned her mother had been arrested protesting outside of Trump Tower in New York City.
"You've been around 67 years — you wait until you get 67 years old to get arrested?" her daughter joked. Carr was among more than a dozen National Action Network demonstrators arrested by the New York Police Department on Tuesday night for blocking traffic on a busy and highly surveilled street in Manhattan.
But Carr says that, given the threat President Donald Trump poses to civil rights, policing reform and other social justice causes, her arrest was necessary. In July 2014, Carr's son Eric Garner, was killed in an interaction with New York City police that's slated for a Justice Department review under the new administration. As such, she said she will keep up the pressure on the people who make the decisions.
"I just feel like it is my duty now to go up there, to be informed and to fight for my son," Carr said in a phone interview on Wednesday. "That's the only way that people are going to listen to us — otherwise they'll think we are just people who lay back and complain."
It was publicity surrounding the case of 43-year-old Garner that helped propel the Black Lives Matter movement to the mainstream in 2014, as activists around the nation cried out against incidents of excessive and lethal police force against African-American men and women. After a grand jury declined to indict the officer most directly involved in Garner's death, the Justice Department's civil rights division announced it would investigate whether other charges were warranted.
But the case stalled, and disagreements between federal investigators and attorneys prevented then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch from making a decision before her DOJ departure. Now, as the nation awaits the confirmation of controversial attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions, Carr said she and Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network will take their fight for justice and police accountability to the Trump administration.
"We want to convey the message to the whole Trump cabinet that we are still looking for fairness," Carr said. "Even though they are taking over and even though we hear all this talk about Sessions, we are still hoping that he does the right thing. We just want him to do what is right, even though Loretta is no longer there."
To be clear, Tuesday night's action outside of Trump Tower was intended a protest against the announcement of the president's Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. A National Action Network organizer said there were dozens of people gathered outside of Trump Tower for a demonstration they'd originally planned for Thursday, when the president was initially slated to announce the nomination.
"We've seen that Trump is putting all these people in office that's not going to benefit us at all," Carr said. "We decided to take a stand."
Carr said the NYPD officers who arrested her were not rough with her. One of the officers put a hand on her shoulder, asked her if she was going to stop obstructing traffic on Fifth Avenue and, when she replied no, they put her in handcuffs and marched her away with the others.
That's in stark contrast to the treatment officers in Staten Island gave her son on July 17, 2014. Officers had been attempting to arrest Garner for allegedly selling loose cigarettes outside of a convenience store.
As Garner protested his arrest, a plainclothes officer identified as Daniel Pantaleo used a banned chokehold maneuver to restrain him. Widely seen smartphone video footage shows Garner pleading with Pantaleo and other officers, "I can't breathe." Those words, Garner's last, quickly became the literal rallying cry for black activists around the country.
That the same police department responsible for her son's death — one that still employs the officer who choked him out — now had her in handcuffs was top of mind, Carr said.
According to the New York Post, NAN members Rev. Johnnie Green, Katrina Jefferson, Rev. Kevin McCall, Patrice Perry, and Minister Kirsten John Foy were also put in cuffs. Ashley Sharpton, daughter of Al Sharpton, was also arrested. They were released just after midnight, Foy said.
An NYPD spokesman confirmed to Mic via email that a total of 11 people were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct.
"We had a successful night, in laying down a marker that we cannot accept a Trump Supreme Court," Foy said in a phone interview. "This nomination was stolen from President Obama and hand to the most regressive, openly racist president we've had in decades."
"Any nominee that passes a Trump-Bannon litmus test should not be setting law in the United States of America," Foy added referring to the president's chief strategist Steve Bannon.
Foy said the symbolism of Carr's arrest sets an example for others. "She was an excellent amplifier of the message," Foy said. "She is without question a validator for progressive causes like criminal justice reform, and she is upholding the name and legacy of her son, Eric, honorably and responsibly."
Carr carries the torch for many African-Americans who cannot do the advocacy work that she is committed to, Foy added.
"She is representative of thousands of black mothers who have to get up everyday and think about their murdered son or their murdered daughter," Foy said, "and how they're going to get through the day providing for the family that they have left."
Carr has used the national spotlight for good, becoming a constant presence at rallies and protests organized by NAN. She is also one of the Mothers of the Movement, a group of black and Latino women who have lost their sons and daughters to vigilante violence, police brutality and gang warfare. The women were featured at the Jan. 21 Women's March on Washington.
"It gave me a chance to shout my son's name to the world," Carr recalled about the moment that performer Janelle Monáe brought her and other Mothers of the Movement onstage for a performance of the call-and-response song, "Hell You Talmbout."
"It seems like it empowered me," Carr said.
Activism has changed her for the better, Carr said. The threats to civil rights and equal justice under Trump mean that the fight is far from over for her, she said.
"I never had done any of this before my son was killed," Carr said. "But all of that is a sense of healing for me. If I have to be there on the front lines to make a statement or commitment, this is what we have to do. When you're fighting for just or fighting for what you believe, it's not always going to be a sunny day. We have to go through the storm and we have to be will to go through the storm."