How did (what was originally called) "Garments for Garner" come to be?
Eric Garner died on July 17, 2014 in Staten Island after Police Officer Pantaleo held him in an illegal chokehold for about eighteen seconds. There is a video of this interaction, where Garner's last words are clear:
Every time you see me, you want to mess with me. I'm tired of it. It stops today... I'm missing my business, officer, I'm minding my business. Please just leave me alone. I told you the last time, please just leave me alone. Please. Please, don't touch me. Do not touch me. [garbled] I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe.
Even though the use of the chokehold is banned and illegal, Officer Pantaleo was not indicted for his violent action. His non-indictment on December 3rd sparked protests throughout the city – another Black life lost at the hands of police brutality. Eric Garner was 43 years old.
When I first heard about Pantaleo's non-indictment, I was infuriated. The idea that there had been "not enough evidence" to indict Pantaleo, despite the existence of video footage, made it abundantly clear that the U.S. justice system is rooted in and enforces white supremacy. So, of course, as a person of color, I was furious. However, as a light skinned individual, I also had to recognize that I had the privilege of merely being angry, rather than afraid. I have the privilege of walking through the city without immediately being perceived as a threat and/or as a criminal.
It wasn't enough for me to be just "angry"; being angry in it of itself could not help anything or anyone.
On a Monday night, returning from the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (that had me feeling vulnerable and raw), I began to draw. And then Eric Garner's high school portrait appeared on my page – the face of a person my own age. My high school agreed to let me print my artwork on to T-Shirts and then sell them in order to raise money for Eric Garner's family. This, essentially, is how the Garments for Garner campaign came to be. As a result, I was able to send the Garner family my first check of $2,120 two days before Christmas. (Update here) (Update 2 here)
Most recently, one of these T-Shirts has been collected by the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, and photographed in the New York Times.
The Garments for Garner campaign is currently still ongoing to raise money for the #BlackLivesMatter campaign. T-Shirts can be purchased here.