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Mother of Eric Garner encouraged by momentum for police reforms

Gwen Carr never watched the entire video showing George Floyd die as a Minneapolis police officer held a knee on his neck.

She finds it's too disturbing to see another black man beg for a breath, then die, the way her own son, Eric Garner, perished six years ago in police custody in Staten Island, N.Y.

Carr, 70, an activist and author, is known as one of the "mothers of the movement" to pass police reforms to prevent any more mothers from losing their black children. She said they needed to stop crying and start doing something about it.

"It's too late for my son, but we have other lives to save, the grandchildren, the nephews, the nieces, the unborn," she said during a phone interview Thursday afternoon. "I'm encouraged by the momentum, but we need to keep on and keep up the momentum."

On June 29, she'll be at Ocean Beach Park in New London for a Conversation with the Community hosted by the New London NAACP. The event begins at 6:30 p.m., and the hosts are asking those who attend to bring a beach chair and wear a mask. Carr will be signing copies of her 2018 book, "This Ends Today," the title of which she said is drawn from the words her son Eric said to officers who had continuously approached him.

Carr was headed to Washington, D.C., on Thursday with her daughter to meet with lawmakers about proposed police reform packages, having seen passage in New York earlier this month of the Eric Garner Anti-Choke Hold Act and measures that require transparent and impartial investigations in the wake of homicides committed by police.

She went to Minnesota the day after Floyd's death to give his family her sympathy, show them solidarity and pass on advice born of the most bitter experience.

"Just because you have a video doesn't mean it's a slam dunk," she said she told them.

Carr, who said the fight for prosecution of the officers involved in her son's death is ongoing — "There's no statute of limitations for murder" — said she and the other mothers who campaigned with Hillary Clinton in 2016 do it for those who can't get out of bed in the morning, those who need heavy medication to make it through the day, and those who have attempted suicide.

"They call us the mothers of the movement, but actually, there's thousands of mothers of the movement," Carr said. "It's just that we are the face. When a mother doesn't have the platform, we must share our platform with them, embrace them and encourage them."

Tamara Lanier, vice president of the New London NAACP, said she's developed a friendship with Carr since Carr came to New London in 2017 to speak at the NAACP's Freedom Fund Dinner. Carr is a religious and soft-spoken woman who demands attention and wants policing to be the best it can be, Lanier said. She's also expected to tell the story of her own family's tragedy. 

"She has been personally impacted and has singlehandedly been responsible for change in her local community and in the statewide arena," Lanier said by phone this past week. "She worked with Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo closely in the legislation that has just passed. She's been meeting with House leaders nationally to be part of police reform. I think the community is looking at how we can move forward to reform, and what better person to hear from than from one person who has lived it?"

k.florin@theday.com

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