Activist Erica Garner, daughter of NYPD chokehold victim Eric Garner, whose death helped fuel the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, is in critical condition with severe brain damage after a heart attack over the weekend.
Garner, 27, went into cardiac arrest after suffering an asthma attack, according to family members. Garner’s mother, Esaw Snipes, told the New York Times that her daughter had her first heart attack earlier this year shortly after giving birth to her second child. Doctors said the pregnancy strained Garner’s enlarged heart, a condition she was previously unaware of.
Garner was placed in a medically induced coma shortly after her heart attack this weekend.
Garner’s official Twitter account has posted updates on her condition for the past several days. The last major update came on Wednesday, when the account, which is currently being managed by someone who works with Garner, tweeted that Garner suffered brain damage while in cardiac arrest.
Update: Cat scan shows Erica suffered major brain damage from a lack of oxygen while in cardiac arrest. Please continue to pray hard for Erica and pray for her family and kids just as much.— officialERICA GARNER (@es_snipes) December 28, 2017
On Thursday, the New York Daily News reported that doctors found Garner to be brain-dead with no chance of recovery. The outlet also reported that family members have been called to the hospital to say their final goodbyes to Garner. Garner’s Twitter account pushed back on the Daily News report, saying that the claims were based on hearsay. The account continues to retweet messages of support from her fellow activists, politicians, and others.
The Garner account has also pushed back on tweets from New York City Council member Jumaane Williams, whose messages earlier Thursday implied that Garner had already passed away. Williams recanted his earlier messages on Thursday, tweeting, “I apologize for any additional strain this may have put on a family who already knows heartbreak too well and whose pain I cannot imagine.”
News of Garner’s condition has led to an outpouring of support for the activist, who became a prominent voice when her father, Eric Garner, was killed during an encounter with an NYPD police officer in 2014, deepening a renewed debate about race and policing, while helping spark the national rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Eric Garner’s fatal police encounter became a symbol for activists
On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner was confronted by police officers on a street corner in Staten Island, New York, for allegedly selling untaxed loose cigarettes. When Garner pulled away from an officer, he was placed in a prohibited chokehold by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo. After being lowered to the ground, Garner was restrained by several officers.
In a video taken by Ramsey Orta, a bystander at the scene, Garner could be heard repeatedly telling officers, “I can’t breathe.” NYPD officers later called an ambulance for Garner after noticing his breathing difficulty, but he was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the hospital. An autopsy confirmed that while Garner had dealt with obesity and asthma, the chokehold had also played a role in his fatal heart attack.
Pantaleo was the only person charged with causing Garner’s death. A grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo later that year, and he remains employed by the NYPD in a reduced role. A US Justice Department civil rights investigation into Garner’s case is ongoing.
Garner’s death became a rallying point for racial justice activists, who argued that minorities, particularly black men and women, were treated unfairly by police, a movement that grew a few weeks after Garner’s death with the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Since her father’s death, Erica Garner has become widely known for her steadfast activism and political involvement
Garner’s death had a powerful effect on his oldest daughter, Erica, who has become a prominent activist and outspoken critic of misconduct in policing. A few months after her father’s death, Erica Garner staged a “die-in” on the same corner where he had been placed in a chokehold by Pantaleo. She has continued to share her father’s story at protests and in the media in the years since.
“Even with my own heartbreak, when I demand justice, it’s never just for Eric Garner," she wrote in a Washington Post op-ed last year. "It’s for my daughter; it’s for the next generation of African Americans.”
Garner is well known for her unflinching critiques of prominent politicians, including Barack Obama, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. She has been particularly critical of de Blasio, noting that he defended the decision to not release Pantaleo’s disciplinary records in the wake of her father’s death.
Garner has also played a role in national politics. She endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders for president, appeared in a campaign video last year, and campaigned for Sanders during the 2016 Democratic primary.
Earlier this week, Sanders tweeted that he hoped Garner “has a full recovery and rejoins the struggle for justice as soon as possible.”
Garner’s support of Sanders was, at one point, a concern for the Clinton campaign, which campaigned heavily on its support from the “Mothers of the Movement,” group of black mothers who lost their children to violence. In an email revealed after WikiLeaks released emails from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, members of Clinton’s team debated including Eric Garner in an editorial about victims of gun violence, noting that the campaign had “Erica Garner issues.” Erica Garner hit back, noting that her father had not been a victim of gun violence, adding that the exchanges were proof of the Clinton campaign’s inadequate understanding of the racial justice issues raised by Black Lives Matter and other activists.
Garner has also been an outspoken critic of Obama, and criticized the former president’s reactions to her father’s death and the slow pace of the DOJ investigation. In 2016, while at a presidential town hall on race relations hosted by ABC News, Garner planned to ask Obama about the federal investigation into her father’s death. When the event ended without Garner having a chance to ask her question, she argued that she was “railroaded” by the network, which had promised her a chance to speak.
In June, Eric Garner’s family met with DOJ officials for updates about their investigation. In a series of tweets after the meeting, Erica Garner again stressed that she wanted to see progress on the investigation.