The daughter of Eric Garner, an African-American man who was choked to death by an NYPD officer on a Staten Island sidewalk, has endorsed Bernie Sanders for president, insisting the Vermont senator is the best choice for improving the lives of minorities.
“Black Americans—all Americans—need a leader with a record that speaks for itself,” wrote Erica Garner in a Washington Post editorial published on Friday morning. “And to me, it’s clear. Of all the presidential candidates, Sen. Bernie Sanders is our strongest ally.”
In July of 2014, New York Police Department officers approached Eric Garner on the suspicion that the father of six was illegally selling cigarettes. When Mr. Garner labeled their accusation harassment, Officer Daniel Pantaleo put him in a chokehold, the use of which had been banned by the department years prior. Garner repeatedly told officers, “I can’t breathe,” as he lay dying on the sidewalk. A New York grand jury later elected not to indict Panteleo.
“I’ve watched as our system criminalizes blackness while allowing Wall Street to bilk the American people with impunity.”
Garner’s death, and the lack of consequences for Panteleo or the NYPD, triggered national outrage, sparked protests across the country, and helped give rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.
As the 2016 presidential campaign began kicking into high gear last year, Black Lives Matter activists made a concerted effort to push Sanders, the race’s progressive standard bearer, to address the issued of police brutality and radicalized inequality. The most notable incident occurred last August when a group of activists interrupted a speech Sanders was giving in Seattle, causing the senator to abandon the event.
The Sanders campaign used this pressure as an opportunity and added a “racial justice” plank to his campaign platform that earned plaudits from many activists. While Sanders’s commitment still faces vocal skepticism from some many in the African-American community, Erica Garner’s endorsement shows how much progress Sanders, who hails from a predominantly white state and has traditionally framed his arguments on economic rather than explicitly racial lines, has made.
Erica Garner expressed her frustration that “establishment Democrats” and “the system” that she trusted have failed her and black Americans at large. “I’ve watched as our system criminalizes blackness while allowing Wall Street to bilk the American people with impunity,” she wrote.
“Who will address the criminalization of our people? Who understands that we’re experiencing an economic crisis made worse by structural barriers to jobs and education? Who will bring us closer to real safety, freedom and power? Who has clearly shown us where they stand?” she continued. “When protesters challenged Sanders last summer, that relationship was tested. They publicly questioned whether the most progressive candidate in the field viewed racial justice as a nonnegotiable demand. The optics were messy, but he heard us. He prioritized a racial justice platform. He spoke out, in speeches and debates, about Sandra Bland and declared that black lives do matter. He heard us, and I believe he’ll continue to listen.”
Sanders may be making inroads with black Americans, but he still has a long way to go. A recent NBC poll found that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Democratic presidential candidate has a 45-point lead when it comes to the support of black voters.
Photo by Key Studio/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed