Eric Garner's Family And Friends Call For Justice At Funeral That 'Never Should Have Been'

7/24/2014, 8:34 p.m.
Garner died last week after police officers in Staten Island tried to arrest him, and one officer used an illegal ...
Esaw Garner, wife of Eric Garner, cries Wednesday during her husband's funeral.

NEW YORK (HP) -- Eric Garner was a son, husband, father of six and grandfather of two. As his family wept over his coffin Wednesday evening, the Rev. Al Sharpton took to the pulpit.

“We should not act as though we should be here today,” he told the few hundred mourners packed inside Brooklyn’s Bethel Baptist Church, many waving paper fans across their faces to fend off the heat. This funeral, he said, “never should have been in the first place.”

“And with all of our faith, you also must have courage to speak truth," Sharpton said, his voice crescendoing. "Yes, God will make a way, but God expects some things out of us. And when you can, in broad daylight, choke one of God’s children, God expects us to stand up, and demand justice! And fairness!”

The crowd rose to its feet and clapped. There were shouts of “Talk about it!” and “Amen!”

Garner died last week after police officers in Staten Island tried to arrest him, and one officer used an illegal chokehold to bring him to the ground. He was 43.

“Let’s not play games with this,” Sharpton said. “You don’t need no training to stop choking a man saying, ‘I can’t breathe!’ You don’t need no cultural orientation to stop choking a man who says, ‘I can’t breathe!’ You need to be prosecuted and you need to be put away for a while!”

“Twenty years ago, Ernest Sayon, right in that same district, died,” Sharpton continued, referring to another Staten Island man who died at the hands of the NYPD in 1994. “We marched then. But there’s a difference this time. This time, there was a video!”

"Where's Ramsey Orta? Come here, brother." A young man walked his way through the crowd and joined Sharpton at the pulpit. "This young man showed more respect for the law, for human life, for decency than the police and the EMS workers. They ought to follow his example. He turned around and said, 'This is wrong, I'm gonna video it.' This city ought to thank God that when the police and EMS failed us, there was a Ramsey Orta!"

Orta then left the pulpit to loud cheers, and was embraced by Garner's family in the front row. "On Friday morning at 10:30," Sharpton continued, "we have an appointment with the United States Attorney's office, civil rights division. We want the federal government to come in. Why? Because that's how Abner Louima's police went to jail."

Abner Louima was brutalized and sodomized by police in 1997. Unlike so many other high-profile cases in which the NYPD either hurt or killed an unarmed black man, the police in Louima's case were prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's office instead of a local district attorney, and police involved served jail time.

"'But Rev. Al, how do we know it was intentional?'" Sharpton continued. "If [Garner] said on tape 11 times, 'I can't breathe,' when does it become intentional? On the third 'I can't breathe'? Or maybe on the sixth 'I can't breathe'? At some point during that time, you made up your mind that you didn't care about him! And your partners made up your mind!"

"And then you file a report that he was not in distress when the tape shows he was laying lifeless," Sharpton said, referring to a police report Tuesday that said Garner wasn't in distress before his death. The report also made no mention of the chokehold.

"You think we're not gonna fight this? We're ready for the long haul. We're not gonna stop until we get justice."

Sharpton then turned toward the assorted elected officials seated in the church. Minutes earlier, Public Advocate Letitia James had spoken, calling for all police street encounters to be videotaped, and for each of the thousands of complaints made to the Civilian Complaint Review Board to be reviewed. Read more