We all watched while Eric Garner desperately pleaded with New York Police Department’s Dan Pantaleo to stop choking him. Garner called out 11 times "I can't breathe," each cry with an intensity that made it not just difficult to witness but maddening. I yelled at the TV screen, shouting at the officers to let him go — trying to avoid seeing the inevitable. Garner died because law enforcement refused to see him as a human being who deserved a life. Refused to see him as a father. A husband. A son. A friend. A human being.
On Tuesday, the world learned that the officer, Pantaleo, would not face any federal charges in connection with the 2014 killing of Garner, and will likely be able to continue his career in the NYPD. Our justice system is still refusing to see Garner's life as one that was worth saving.
People and organizations stepped up to fight for Garner and his family. His daughter, Erica Garner, championed the crusade — #JusticeForEricGarner. She pushed a generation of us to show up for our loved ones. She endorsed Bernie Sanders, who eventually became a very outspoken supporter of the movement during the 2016 election cycle. She was even featured in one of his campaign videos.
She participated in Black Lives Matter protests, she led them, and she supported them. She promised she would fight for her father until he received justice or until she was in her grave. We all admired Erica. Many of us who didn’t know her father built a relationship with him through her work. When she passed away after a heart attack in 2017, we were all devastated. How could this powerful young woman who had been fighting for her father die so damn young? We knew her work would continue through so many people and organizations, and many of us hoped that Erica’s fight and her death would not be in vain.
POLICING THE USA: A look at race, justice, media
The news that Pantaleo would not be charged, while disturbing, is not surprising. We have seen time and time again that no matter how heinous the crime against black communities by law enforcement, the lack of accountability is steadfast. But the system was never meant to protect us, and while we should continue to make demands of district attorneys and the Department of Justice, we should also aim to overhaul and rebuild our justice system into one that no longer relies on a bloated police state that targets the black community.
An overhaul would allow us to imagine a world where Garner wouldn't have to sell "illegal cigarettes" to make ends meet. We could build a system in which Erica Garner wouldn't have to fight for her father's legacy and then die too young. All of our community needs would be met, and we would no longer be policed for being poor.
Working toward the overhaul of our current system should remind us that we all deserve to breathe. Eric Garner deserved to breathe. And we will continue to fight for his legacy and for his daughter's — legacies that centered on struggle and hope and justice.
Patrisse Cullors is an American artist and activist. She is a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement and a co-author of New York Times bestseller "When They Call You a Terrorist." Follow her on Twitter: @OsopePatrisse.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Eric Garner didn't get justice. Let's build a system in which others do