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This is Trauma: Erica Garner & Ramsey Orta on Coping with the Aftermath of a Police Killing (Pt. 2)

Web ExclusiveJanuary 12, 2016
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In our post-show conversation, Eric Garner’s daughter, Erica Garner, talks about the impact of her father’s death on her family. Eighteen months after Eric Garner’s death at the hands of New York City police, one officer is finally facing charges. But the charges are not criminal, and the officer was not directly involved in Garner’s death by chokehold. Instead, Sergeant Kizzy Adonis, who is African-American, faces internal charges of “failing to supervise.” The internal charges against Adonis come just over a year after a grand jury elected not to indict white officer Daniel Pantaleo for killing Garner in a chokehold.

“This is trauma,” Erica Garner says of the aftermath of her father’s death. “My three-year-old niece bashed a boy in the head with a book at school, and said, ’I’m angry the cops killed my grandfather.’” We’re also joined by Ramsey Orta, the man who filmed the fatal police chokehold of Eric Garner. He says he’s faced retaliation from police since releasing the video.

Watch Part 1 of our interview with Erica Garner and Ramsey Orta.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re joined by Eric Garner’s daughter, Erica Garner. Eric Garner was taken down by police on July 17th, 2014, put in a police chokehold in Staten Island, and as he said “I can’t breathe,” gasping it 11 times, the police piled on top of him. The reason we know what took place that day is because Ramsey Orta filmed Eric Garner’s death, filmed the attack on Eric Garner. He is also joining us here, a young man who simply had a video phone, who was a friend of Eric’s.

Erica, can you talk about your family and what has happened in the last 18 months? You know, a private family, kids, grandchildren, suddenly you’re thrust into the international spotlight as a result of the death of your dad, Eric Garner.

ERICA GARNER: Well, when you deal with grief, when you talk about grief and you talk about family and how regular families deal with it, you know, families have problems. Family has trouble to—with coping with it. But it makes it so different because now we are part of this national scale. Like everything we do is in the paper. We got people coming from the left field giving us bad advice, people coming in with their own agendas. And it’s like we are—we were thrust into the spotlight and was like out there. We don’t have union reps and people to represent us and tell us, “Well, you need to do this, you need to do that.” And, you know, my family has just been dealing with that, trying to stay organized and also deal with the fact that my father is gone and like nothing is being done about it.

And, you know, mental health is very important. If—you hear Bill de Blasio say, you know, it’s very important, and we need to do something about it. And it’s like families that’s put in my position, black families that’s on public assistance, that doesn’t have the income, to get therapy is $300 an hour, and I don’t think that’s fair, and it’s not made for the white—I mean, for the black population, because how are we supposed to cope with this if we don’t have someone to talk to, someone professionally to talk to? So, now my family is trying to figure out how—well, me, personally, I’m trying to figure out how can I, you know, get past that barrier and find someone to talk to to deal with this, because this is trauma. This is—my three-year-old niece bashed a boy in the head with a book at school and said that “I’m angry the cops killed my grandfather. That’s the reason why I did it.” She wasn’t mad at the kid. But it’s—she’s so young, and for her to say that, it hurts my heart. And now she’s in—you know, she’s got to talk to someone out of her day care, whatever, and it’s just not fair. And we just need whatever put into place for mental health to take care of our mental health, because it’s very important. It’s very important, you know, dealing with grief.

I still haven’t accepted that my father is gone, even though I talk about my dad, but I talk about him in a case study, like I’ve been studying his case. For the latest updates, you can go to my website or to Twitter, OfficialEricaGarner.com or OfficialErica on Twitter. And, you know, you can see I’m constantly reading articles and doing the research on my dad’s case. But I’m not taking care of me. And that’s what I want Ramsey Orta to do: I want you to take care of you and, you know, what’s going on like mentally and physically, but also to, like, other families that’s going through this.

AMY GOODMAN: Ramsey, you’re wearing a sweatshirt that says “Copwatch.” You’re the person who certainly watched and allowed the world to watch what happened to Eric Garner by filming. Explain what Copwatch is. And what are you doing with them?

RAMSEY ORTA: Copwatch is an organization where we basically try to spread the knowledge and the rightful—the rightful—how would I put that? The rightful words. And let’s just say, if it was a religion, like, people need to follow it, because without this, situations like Eric Garner would have been swept under the rug. So, I feel like Copwatch is there to make sure nothing else is being swept under the rug. And we’re out there trying to hold cops accountable for their wrongdoing, and not even hold cops accountable for their wrongdoing, but also provide the community with more outlets and more structured classes, I guess, to make sure everybody’s on the same page.

AMY GOODMAN: What would you tell someone about filming?

RAMSEY ORTA: Don’t be scared. And just—don’t be scared.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, since July 17, 2014, you’ve been held at Rikers two times. You were just in court yesterday. That case was adjourned. You’re moving on to another one. You feel you’re being targeted by police. You’ve been brought up on drug offenses. So what would you tell someone else? Do you feel you’ve sacrificed a lot?

RAMSEY ORTA: Yes. I mean, my whole personal life is out there. To piggyback off of what Erica was saying, my little brother’s only eight years old, and he goes to school crying because he’s scared that I’m going to be re-arrested. This is something that needs to be brought into the attention of the community where we’re out there living in these situations. The people that are getting this information and being taught about police accountability and—or just even anything about the community, it’s not being taught in the right places. It’s being taught to people who have it already.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the things I was most struck by in this video, the horrifying video that shows Eric Garner going down in a police chokehold, saying “I can’t breathe” 11 times, is that at a later point bystanders, people near you, wanted to help him, because the police weren’t, but the police kept any aid away. It’s not only that they didn’t administer to him or minister to him, they didn’t let any of you, any of the people who were watching, bystanders, come and do first aid.

RAMSEY ORTA: Well, I mean, as far as that, from my knowledge, once there’s a crime scene, us, as in the community, we’re not allowed to cross that line. So, once they realized that they murdered my friend, that’s when they started telling people to move back and stuff like that.

AMY GOODMAN: Is there a federal civil rights investigation going on into the death of your father, Erica?

ERICA GARNER: Yes, but they’re not giving up any information, not nothing. Also, I also want to bring to attention the three EMS workers that recently been back to work. It’s like a slap in the face.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what they did or didn’t do.

ERICA GARNER: They didn’t do anything. According to witnesses at the scene, Sergeant Adonis, when she crept away in the video, she went to go speak to the EMS workers—I mean, the EMS trucks that’s stationed always on Staten Island on Bay Street, on that particular block, when they wait for calls. She went up to them, tried to ask for them to get assistance, according to Ed Mullins, the union rep. And they didn’t want to help them, so they called another EMS truck. And when they came to the scene, that’s the reason why four EMS workers was there. But Nicole Palmeri, she’s the only one that’s still placed on modified duty, and that was the one that you could see in the video.

AMY GOODMAN: Come over and then leave.

ERICA GARNER: Come over and talk to him like he was alive. My father was already dead. And it hurts me to keep watching that video, and they’re acting as if my father was alive. Like, they treated his body so—like an animal, like a beast, like some dead animal that’s road kill. And it’s just—it’s just everything just went wrong with them EMS workers. And, you know, for them to get their job back, it’s like—it’s like people are scared of the police, you know, and the brutality, but what about the EMS workers? Like, that’s scary to call 911 and get—and request for an ambulance, the people that’s supposed to save your life, and they come, and they don’t do anything. My father could have been saved by oxygen, CPR, any action. And that’s another thing, when I say about the corruption. Like, the corruption and the injustice need to stop. They need to stop pointing fingers and blaming this one and blaming that one, and admit guilt to everything that they—that happened on that corner. Yeah, I just want to—it goes back to my point: If Sergeant Adonis is charged with failure to supervise, then a lot of people, from the bottom all the way to the top, should be charged with the same thing. And again, I just want to strongly stress that Bill de Blasio, William Bratton, just like people are the Chicago mayor, Rahm, they—

AMY GOODMAN: Rahm Emanuel.

ERICA GARNER: Rahm, they’re telling him that he should need—he needs to resign.

AMY GOODMAN: Over the death of Laquan McDonald.

ERICA GARNER: Yes. And I think that people of New York need to stand up and demand that Bratton and Bill de Blasio resign also. And, you know, just take a look back of, like, the police officers turning their back on their commander-in-chief, William Bratton, after they told him not to, and also the mayor. So, the police is not even respecting your position, your high ranking. So, you know, it’s just not—it’s just not acceptable, whatever answers we got so far.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Ramsey Orta, your final thoughts that you’d like to leave our listeners and viewers with?

RAMSEY ORTA: First and foremost, I would like to thank you guys and Erica for bringing me here, and my supporters out there that strongly and highly stick by my side and don’t go nowhere. Besides all the bad stuff that’s been said about me, they still support me. And that’s what just makes me get up stronger and do what I’ve got to do every day.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both, Ramsey Orta and Erica Garner, for joining us. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman.

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