50 Things Eric Garner Could Have Been Doing on His 50th Birthday

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Eric Garner, a beloved father, community member and resident of New York City would be 50 years old today. Eric’s life was abruptly ended on July 17, 2014, after an encounter with the New York Police Department (NYPD). His story is a cornerstone of the movement for Black lives and a defining case in the fight against police brutality.

The summer afternoon that claimed Eric’s life began with him playing the role of peacemaker, breaking up a fight in the Staten Island neighborhood of Tompkinsville. Eric would later be questioned by NYPD officers about his selling of “loosies,” a term for loose cigarettes, outside of a convenience store. Eric had been previously arrested for the selling of loosies, as well as other minor charges. He was reportedly frustrated with the consistent harassment he received from NYPD and had previously filed a complaint against the department. During the encounter with police, he allegedly told the officers, “I’m tired of it. This stops today.”

Eric was surrounded by NYPD officers and placed in a banned chokehold by Officer Daniel Pantaleo. He was wrestled to the ground where his repeated last words were, “I can’t breathe.”

In honor of the life of a man described as a ‘gentle giant’ by his community, a man who worked as a mechanic and in his city’s horticulture department, a man who was a father to six children and a husband of twenty years, I imagine fifty things that Eric Garner might be doing if he was alive to celebrate his half-century.

1.Holding his grandchild.

2.Kissing his wife, Esaw.

3. Giving thanks.

4. Calling his mother, Gwen.

5. Laying low during COVID due to health conditions.

6. Having a piece of cake.

7. Not mourning the death of his daughter, Erica, as her heart would not have broken in the same way.

8. Taking a socially distant stroll around his beloved borough.

9. Reminiscing.

10. Advocating for the formerly incarcerated.

11. Believing that Black lives do indeed matter.

12. Obtaining a vendor’s license.

13. Giving someone advice on a non-functioning car.

14. Giving someone advice on growing a garden.

15. Growing and evolving.

16. Grieving the loss of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the paralyzing of Jacob Blake.

17. Volunteering.

18. Voting.

19. Smiling.

20. Challenging NYPD’s use of excessive force.

21. Loving his family.

22. Advising his son on life after college basketball.

23. Celebrating 26 years of wedded bliss.

24. Speaking truth to power.

25. Breathing.

26. Laughing with old friends.

27. Managing his diabetes.

28. Asking forgiveness for prior transgressions.

29. Taking a shower.

30. Buying a new face covering.

31. Watching Netflix.

32. Playing with his six-year-old.

33. Being teased for setting off a fire alarm from all the candles on his cake.

34. Enjoying a cool glass of water.

35. Having an insignificant argument.

36. Lecturing in the hood.

37. Praying.

38. Avoiding drama.

39. Squeezing his inhaler.

40. Picking up a new trade.

41. Crying tears of joy.

42. Forgiving someone.

43. Doing a little dance.

44. Reading.

45. Making love.

46. Standing tall.

47. Starting an exercise routine.

48. Seeing a therapist.

49. Never encountering Daniel Pantaleo.

50. Breathing.

About the Author

Donney Rose is a poet, essayist, advocate and Chief Content Editor at The North Star. He believes in telling how it is and how it should be.