I first met Erica Garner about one year after her father, Eric Garner, was killed by police officers. We had seen that video of Officer Pantaleo putting Erica’s father in a chokehold and hearing Eric plead “I can’t breathe” so many times in that year that it was jarring to meet Erica, who was the spitting image of her father.
Erica neither needed nor sought my advice about what to do. I just advised her sometimes on how technically to get certain things done.
One day we spoke after she had endorsed Bernie Sanders. I asked her if she thought it was a good idea to associate so closely with a presidential candidate. I was thrilled since I supported him too. But it’s better as an activist to have distance from candidates. He will inevitably say or do something that will anger you and your supporters I said, but you will be associated with him.
She agreed, but thought it was such an important election. She did not like the Clintons. She heard the dog whistle racist language and policies that her husband enacted in the 90s and that Hillary supported and rejected it flatly.
Later, when Sanders lost the primary, she did not support Clinton. I didn’t speak to her about it but personally I disagreed. Clinton v. Trump seemed like a no brainer, regardless of my negative feelings about HRC.
But once I saw her defending herself on twitter for not endorsing Clinton. She said this:
“The Democratic Party is the historical party of slavery and Jim Crow. What if you’re jewish, and the Nazi party has reformed and now in some ways is “better” than the alternative. Could you vote for them? Well, why do you expect me to just give my vote to Hillary Clinton and the Democrats?”
This knocked me for a loop. I had never thought of it that way and while I still supported Clinton, her words opened my mind, helped me see something in a certain way that I hadn’t before. This allegedly woke civil rights lawyer never understood what it meant to be black and vote for the Democratic party. I started imagining a “reformed” Nazi party that still supported capital punishment that disproportionately effected Jews. That supported mass incarceration that disproportionately effected jews. Even if these Nazis were “better” than the alternative, how could I give them my vote? That I learned this lesson from someone literally half my age gave me hope for the future.
Rest in Peace Erica Garner. I promise to stay devoted to your legacy.