NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – Gwen Carr has become the voice for heartbroken black mothers who are calling for police reforms after having lost sons and daughters. It’s a role she was thrust into after her son, Eric Garner, uttered with his dying breath, “I can’t breathe.”
In the six years since Garner died after being placed in a choke hold by a New York City cop, Carr has grown more accustomed to speaking up, speaking out and leading protests - like the one coming up in New Brunswick on Aug. 2.
“It's tough,” Carr told TAPinto New Brunswick. “It’s tough work to do, but I know I have to do it to keep my son's name alive and keep his legacy alive. So, this is why I do it. This is part of my field, making sure he’s never forgotten.”
Garner’s name has been kept alive as part of the call-and-response chants said by protestors marching in New Brunswick and other cities across the country. Twitter users latched onto the #SayHisName hashtag after the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, but it has continued as protestors also invoke the names Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
Following Floyd’s death after a Minnesota police officer used his knee to pin his neck to the ground for almost 9 minutes, there has been a nationwide surge of protestors taking to the streets to declare, “Black Lives Matter.”
Floyd’s and Garner’s deaths were so eerily similar that Carr said she reached out to the Floyd family shortly after his death on May 25.
She said she offered her condolences, but also urged them, “You can’t let this go.”
Carr hasn’t been able to let go of the pain. There were no bullhorns, chants or signs held aloft calling to defund the local police department on July 17 when Carr marked the sixth anniversary of her son’s death. She sat alone and thought of him.
“I miss his smile, first of all,” she said. “Second of all, I miss being together on holidays and family get togethers – just talking to each other. We used to talk to each other on a regular basis, every two or three days, if not every day. So, I miss all of that.
“And I just miss him being here. And it hurts me, too, that not long after he passed, his oldest daughter Erica passed. She was just 27 years old. So, it was one thing after another.”
One thing that helps ease the agony of her loss, Carr says, is the many kind words she receives for her activism. People approach her at protests and tell her that she has inspired them by the way she has led the charge for police reforms and transparency in the legal system.
“I’ve heard plenty of things like that and it actually warms my heart to hear people say that because if I can make a change in anyone’s life, I’m pleased about that,” Carr said.
Carr’s participation in the Aug. 2 march was announced on Facebook by New Brunswick native Tormel Pittman, who organized and led a protest march through the city streets five days after Floyd’s death.
The protest will start on the corner of Throop Avenue and Handy Street and will proceed to City Hall.