Where is justice for Eric Garner? Black Americans won't accept empty words: Today's talker

USA TODAY

This week marks the fifth anniversary of the death of Eric Garner, who died after repeatedly gasping "I can't breathe" during a chaotic arrest in 2014 in New York. The Justice Department declined to bring charges against the police officer involved in the arrest.

Black America is waiting for progress

By Hawk Newsome

On Tuesday, justice was once again denied to Eric Garner after the Justice Department announced it will not bring federal charges against the police officer who killed him. Garner was a loving father and beloved son who was put in a lethal chokehold by a plain clothes police officer on July 17, 2014

For many, Garner’s killing exemplified the violence experienced on a daily basis by communities of color in the United States. After his death, we marched. When a grand jury decided not to indict officer Daniel Pantaleo, we marched. For the countless other black men and women who have died at the hands of police and have received no justice — mothers, fathers, sons, daughters — we have marched. We still march and still we see no justice.

Because of the pressure that groups like Black Lives Matter have put on elected officials, addressing police violence has become a more mainstream issue and it is used to appeal to targeted voting blocks to gain support. But that’s all we have seen — talk.

I wonder: Where is the celebrity support for our brother Garner? Where is the political support? There are enough resources and there is enough energy for our nation to address more than one issue at a time. I believe our country has an acute case of attention deficit disorder when it comes to issues affecting people of color.

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Police violence, blatant disregard for black lives and the oppression of black people dates back centuries in this country. What happened to Garner is tied to, and enabled by, America’s racist past and present.

We do not forget the victims who came before Garner. We will continue to call on his legacy and the legacy of too many other black men, women and children. We will not forget the justice they were denied when there is inevitably another victim. We are not surprised anymore when justice is denied, when America contradicts its stated values, when promises from the U.S. government — even our progressive leaders — are proved empty.

I am left again with burning questions. Who’s free in this land? This land may be your land — but is it mine? These politicians may represent you — but do they represent me?

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We are more determined than ever before to show up for black lives, to make the rest of the country pay attention to horrific acts of violence that go unaddressed. This has made us even more certain of the need for large-scale, radical, systemic reform.

We tried the traditional channels that ostensibly are in place to protect Americans from state violence and oppressive government, and have been shown, once again, that those systems do not and were never meant to protect black Americans. This means we need other avenues to protect our communities and seek justice.

Hofstra University students staged a Black Lives Matter protest on the campus on Long Island, New York. Sept. 26, 2016.

We will keep showing up for the black community. We will keep calling out injustice and holding power to account. In addition to this, however, we will also start calling out empty promises by politicians who proclaim their racial progressiveness, who make promises to our communities in order to get elected and then don’t show up when our survival is on the line.

It is not enough to say that you will address the epidemic of state-sanctioned violence targeted at our community. Any true progressive — any true American civil servant — will be there in the streets and in the courtroom with us, demanding that justice be done and fulfilling the promise of equal protection under law.

When has America ever attained anything without having these moments of reckoning, without stepping up even when it’s uncomfortable, even when it requires sacrifice?

Hawk Newsome is the chair of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York. Follow him on Twitter @HawkofNewYork.

What others are saying?

Gwen Carr,  New York Daily News: “That’s the thing, when you kill our children, the family left behind is also victimized. And we never truly heal, we never get over it, we just go on. In a sense, I’m glad that we never completely heal because if we did, we would forget the injustice that occurred. Eric was a person. He lived in my life for 43 years. You killed my son and I will never forget or stop fighting. Eric is no longer able to speak so I will be his voice, and you will hear me.”

Jumaane Williams,  Newsweek: “The last hope for justice lies with the NYPD commissioner and the mayor. They are among the people who seemingly agree that a tragic injustice occurred — but refuse to do anything to seek justice now. They are out of excuses. I hope they will do the right thing and fire Pantaleo. But frankly, I'm not sure we should hold our breath.”

Tom Wrobleski,  Staten Island Live: “We’ve seen changes in New York in the wake of Garner’s death. Police wear body cameras now, so we can have official video of officer interactions with civilians. The state attorney general will investigate when a police officer causes the death of an unarmed civilian in the line of duty. All of that has flowed out of Garner’s death. Thankfully, grand jury records still remain sealed, despite the outcry that the Garner grand jury information should be made public. Keeping the records secret is an important protection for the accused and those who testify before grand juries. The Garner case will never truly be over, certainly not for the Garner family. And the city will never be the same. But it’s up to (Police Commissioner James) O’Neill to put some kind of closure on it.”

What readers are saying?

How can they call themselves a "Justice" Department?

— Walt Stasinski

Why do people resist arrest? Do they think it will have a positive outcome?

— Greg Hunder

I feel very sorry for the family of Eric Garner. If he had been white, this would not have happened.

— Anita Picone

He resisted arrest leaving the officers no choice but to forcefully arrest him. Where the cops messed up was in not recognizing his distress sooner and not acting upon it as a critical matter.

— Mike Connell

I think that was a wise decision. It was a very unfortunate outcome but it was not a civil rights issue.

— Edwin Schrodinger

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Eric Garner case: Progressives need to deliver justice:Today's talker