Erica Garner, activist and daughter of slain police victim Eric Garner, died unexpectedly of heart failure at the end of 2017. She was only 27, and left behind two small children.
She also had unfinished business.
In the last months of her life, she had been planning to release a video she’d made surreptitiously of a meeting with Department of Justice officials in New York on June 21 of last year.
Erica was furious about the meeting, which she attended with her grandmother, Gwen Carr, as well as her mother, Esaw Snipes, and Reverend Al Sharpton. She felt that Justice officials had made empty promises.
As was reported by the New York Times in late October of 2016, the Garner case had been re-assigned – prior to the election of Donald Trump – in an unusual shakeup within the Justice Department. The paper claimed that the FBI officials in New York “opposed bringing charges,” so a new, Washington-based team took over the case.
In the video, that new team of Justice Department officials leads off the meeting by inferring to Erica and her family that they can expect a decision on civil rights charges soon.
“I think that we’ll be at a decisional point within the next several months,” an official tells the family, adding: “We’re not talking about, no decisions being made on this case in 2018. That is not where we’re at.”
This statement was very much on Erica Garner’s mind shortly before her death, as the New Year approached. She discussed it frequently with friends and family.
On the tape, both Erica and her grandmother Gwen Carr can be heard asking for specifics about what had been learned in the investigation. They are not told anything, but are told that the new team had done most of the work.
“The vast majority of the federal investigation,” they are told, “has taken place since this team was put into place.”
In other words, this new team had done more work than the previous, New York-based team.
This upset Erica, who was tired, she said, of continually being asked to be pleased about things that were not concrete results, and/or promised action that was not forthcoming. As the New Year approached, she talked more and more about finding ways to pressure the Justice Department to act.
Despite what people may have thought from the outside – there were many who believed that the family was content with the $5.9 million financial settlement it won from the city of New York in July of 2015 – Erica was determined to see if someone, anyone, would be federally prosecuted on civil rights charges for her father’s chokehold death at the hands of police on July 17, 2014.
Although sources told Rolling Stone a grand jury was still taking testimony from witnesses late in the year, the “decisional point” never came in the federal case before Erica’s own death.
That does not mean the case is dead, however. The news could be interpreted in different ways, according to multiple sources close to the affair. The delay could mean the investigation is not only ongoing, but expanding. Or, it could mean the opposite. In either case, Erica’s circle got tired of waiting.
The Justice Department did not comment for this story.