“We fight not for glory nor for wealth nor honours; but only and alone we fight for freedom, which no good man surrenders but with his life.”
-Bernard De Linton
Racism claimed another victim today. A mother of two, a freedom fighter and a force to be reckoned with, succumbed to the weight of oppression and the evils of white supremacy.
Erica Garner, daughter of police choke-hold victim Eric Garner, died Saturday morning after being placed in a medically induced coma last week. She suffered a massive heart attack that was triggered by an asthma attack. In August of this year, she suffered her first heart attack after the birth of her second child, where it was discovered that she had an enlarged heart.
To write off Garner’s death as “health issues” would be a myopic perspective that does an injustice to her activism and the lives of other activists who have recently died. The truth is that fighting racism is literally killing us.
An article from “Wired” reported studies that showed the physical health effects that racism and oppression have on black bodies. Discrimination has been shown to increase the risk of stress, depression, the common cold, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and breast cancer. Simply being exposed to racism or the anticipation of racism, causes heightened blood pressure.
In what is now her last interview, Garner spoke three weeks ago about the toll that fighting injustice has taken on her.
“Look at Kalief Browder’s mother. She died of a broken heart, she had heart problems because she kept on fighting for her son. I’m struggling right now with the stress and everything or whatever because this thing, it beats you down. The system beats you down to where you can’t win.”
Garner is not the first, nor will she be the last black activist to give their life in the pursuit of fighting racism.
Shawn McCarroll, a 23 year-old Black Lives Matter activist from Ohio took his own life in February 2016. Hours before fatally shooting himself, he posted a final message on his Facebook page saying, “My demons won today.”
Activism is not glamorous. It is a life of constant struggle, self-doubt, sadness and trauma. Day after day, seeing videos of black death, beatings and injustice takes a toll that one cannot imagine until it has been experienced.
Garner experienced this every day after the death of her father. She watched his killing over and over on national television, the trauma of which she felt deep in her bones. This distress was compounded by the lack of support and treatment available to young black activists like herself, to help cope with what they’re experiencing every day.
Black activists are literally putting their lives on the line every day. It’s not solipsistic to say so, it’s a fact.
The Washington Post reported on the psychological toll of activism after McCarroll’s death.
“‘In the movement you’re just constantly engaging in black death, seeing the communal impact,’ said Jonathan Butler, the University of Missouri graduate student whose hunger strike last fall led to the resignation of the school’s president. ‘You’re being faced with the reality that I’m more likely to be killed by the police, that I’m being discriminated against. You start to see all of the microaggressions.’”
Erica Garner was more than a social justice activist. She was a daughter, named after her father, whose death motivated her to activism. She was a sister and a mother of two. Her newborn son will never know his mother and the blame for this is on a society built and maintained on systemic oppression.
Activism is not a job nor a hobby. Activism is a constant battle for our civil rights, our humanity and our right to exist in white spaces. Erica fought that battle every day with strength, honor and a passion that is seldom seen. Her loss to those who loved her, and those of us who fight for justice every single day, is a loss that we will not soon recover from.
Bob Marley said that “it is better to die fighting for freedom than to be a prisoner all the days of your life.” While it gives no comfort to those who are left behind, Erica did just that. She was an example to all of us who continue to fight in her stead and now she is free to join the ancestors.