By JHERELLE BENN
“I can’t breathe!,” shouted the mother of Eric Garner’s youngest daughter, during a rally on Staten Island Thursday afternoon, echoing the final words of the man who died in a chokehold, words that became a national rallying cry for protests focusing on alleged policer brutality.
About 50 people gathered on the steps of Borough Hall rallying for justice for Garner and protesting charges against Ramsey Orta, the man responsible for filming Garner’s death and releasing it for the world to see.
One year ago a jury decided not to indict the police officer blamed by protestors for causing Garner’s death by placing him in a chokehold, after attempting to arrest him for selling untaxed loose cigarettes.
Orta faces charges for filming the 20-minute encounter on his cell phone. He accuses police of harassing him after he released the video, exposing the force used to take down Garner who stood at six -foot – three and weighed 350 lbs.
According to published reports, the officer, Daniel Panteleo, had been sued three times for allegedly violating the constitutional rights of other blacks whom he and fellow cops arrested.
A year later 18-month-old Legacy Garner, now fatherless, joined her mother Jewel Miller, community groups, students and others in 50 degree weather to demand justice.
“The fight still continues,” said Miller.
Groups like Staten Island against police brutality and OCCU-EVOLVE were present with about six CUNY students from the College of Staten Island. They rallied on the sidewalks and in the streets when they could, walking down Richmond Terrace and stopping in front of the 120th Precinct where Panteleo still works.
“How could you work for a system that attacks humanity?,” said one protestor who goes bythe name Sista Shirley.
They continued along Louis Sargiorgia Plaza and onto Hyatt Street to the courthouse where they lay on the ground and screamed, “I can’t breathe!” The demonstration ended at Garner’s place of death right around the corner from the courthouse.
Police monitored the demonstration with one patrol car slowly driving past the borough hall steps and one parked just a few feet away. Officers directed traffic around the rally as demonstrators marched in the streets gaining much attention from store owners, motorists, and pedestrians who had mixed reactions.
When a Grand Jury decided not to indict Panteleo last year, rallies rippled across several cities.
Many observers were surprised at the low turnout for Thursday’s rally. “This demonstration should be huge,” said Miller.
One CSI student, Krystal Sanchez, said she came to the protest because,“It’s important to make this world a better place. This affects us directly.”
Miller vowed to tell her daughter the truth about her father and not sugarcoat the details. She also encouraged people to be informed about their rights and to educate themselves about the law. “With Eric,” she said, “something small turned into his death.”