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Jul 24, 17

Occupy Bay Street Report-Back: Celebrating the Memory of Eric Garner

On July 17th, over a hundred people from all over New York City gathered for Occupy Bay Street in Tompkinsville Park, across the Street from the site where Eric Garner was murdered by the NYPD three years ago.  We occupied the park for the entire day, celebrating the memory of Eric Garner, and honoring his generosity to the community he loved. The event was organized by The Legacy Eric Garner Left Behind and sponsored by many grassroots organizations including the NYC IWW General Defense Committee, Staten Island Against Racism and Police Brutality, the Coalition to End Broken Windows, Afrikans Helping Afrikans and Why Accountability.

The atmosphere was festive and joyful, while at the same time sadness and anger over Garner’s murder has not abated. Children, including Garner’s youngest daughter Legacy, played in the park throughout the day, hoola hooping and coloring. NYC Parks, where Eric Garner had once worked, came through to help family, friends and their children plant perennials. Skill-shares included knitting for beginners and a self-defense demonstration by POP Gym for both adults and children. Cop Watchers were also present. Across the street, near where his memorial now stands, organizers – including members of Garner’s family – served free food.

Activists from various organizations spoke at Occupy Bay Street about issues largely affecting people of color, including police brutality, gentrification, and the school to prison pipeline. Musicians including Queen Blizzy, Phoebe Blue and the Make Baleaves, and Billy Pilgrim performed throughout the day, with songs touching upon these very same topics. In the evening, attendees participated in a Swipe it Forward action led by Why Accountability and the Coalition to End Broken Windows, drawing attention to fare evasion as the most common “Broken Windows” violation. Broken Windows, or the policy of severely cracking down on minor infractions in the belief that it will stymie more violent crimes, has led to the criminalization of an entire generation of poor and working-class people of color; Eric Garner was persistently harassed and ultimately murdered by the NYPD as a direct result of Broken Windows policies.

While the police allowed events to proceed without much interference, they did come into the park on several occasions to harass homeless people. The same policies of Broken Windows policing that led to the death of Eric Garner continue to this day, causing the criminalization, imprisonment and death of black people across the country. This highlights the need for all of us to continue to build community power rooted in people – not politicians. To that end, Occupy Bay Street served a dual purpose of commemorating a man who loved giving back to his community, and also in building resistance to a system that criminalizes blackness and poverty.

Later that night, People’s Monday, NYC Shut It Down, and Black Live Matter of Greater New York joined the family, and activists that had remained from the morning at Eric Garner’s memorial and marched through the streets of Staten Island, along Richmond Terrace and Jersey St, past vertical and horizontal projects, chanting ”No Justice, No Peace”; “Black Lives Matter, Brown Lives Matter, Blue is a Job – That Shit don’t Matter”; and of course “Fuck The Police.” At first, NYPD threatened to arrest the marchers, but fell back after passing the 120th police precinct, at least in part because Staten Island, the whitest of the five boroughs, does not have a central bookings for the pigs to warehouse people expressing disdain or exercising their freedom of speech.

Teenagers greeted the marchers on the streets, as local children joined in on bikes. Then as the march wound down Jersey St, the local president of National Action Network ran across the march, ignoring Garner’s family, in order to hug the Staten Island Borough Commander of the NYPD, Edward Delatorre, who had been tailing the march all along – a symbol of how the interests of large entrenched institutions often stand in direction contradiction to the desires of the people that live in the neighborhoods they claim to represent.

The march ended back at Eric Garner’s memorial where activists read the facts of Eric Garner’s murder, spoke about the facts of police impunity, and talked about the direction of an autonomous grassroots Black Lives Matter Movement. The night ended with a circle of activists spilling into the street as they recited Assata’s Prayer. Eric Garner’s memory lives on, as the community that he loved has been strengthened in celebration of his spirit and in defiance against the racism and injustice that caused his death.

The Legacy Eric Garner Left Behind is now accepting donations for the second annual back-to-school give back for Eric Garner’s birthday on September 15th. Please donate here. 

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