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Eric Garner's mother speaks at Ocean Beach Park event

New London — By the time Gwen Carr began speaking Monday night under the pavilion at Ocean Beach Park, she said those who had spoken before her had touched on most of the important points.

Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, whose 2014 death sparked the "I Can't Breathe" police reform movement, had been invited by the New London branch of the NAACP to speak. The 70-year-old Carr, whose son died after a New York City police officer placed him in a chokehold, stood before the estimated gathering of more than 100 people of all ages and backgrounds and said she was proud to be there.

"Just looking at all of you under one roof, this is the way it should be," she said. "We do all live under one roof, and we should be treated as one."

Her son is dead, but Carr, says she is working to save the lives of other sons and grandsons and the unborn.

She signed copies of her 2018 book,"This Ends Today," the title of which she said is drawn from the words her son said to officers who had continuously approached him.

On June 12, Carr attended the signing in Manhattan of the Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act, which makes it a statewide felony for an officers to engage in a chokehold except in situations where they are protecting their own lives. She traveled to Washington earlier this month to consult with lawmakers working on federal police accountability legislation and, as she granted interview after interview with reporters Monday night, showed no signs of tiring.

Without religion, Carr said, she would have lost her mind. She said she has family members and friends who are police officers, and when her son, who loved everybody, was killed, they were afraid to call her. She told them she doesn't hate them, but has a bone to pick with the bad apples who wear the badge.

 She wasn't raised to be a racist, and neither was her son, Carr said.

Her brief remarks followed on the heels of song, dance and speeches by local youth, religious figures and city councilors, all of whom expressed a commitment to police reform. While there were no uniformed officers in site, New London Police Capt. Brian Wright, the highest ranking Black officer in the history of the department, was an event sponsor and speaker. Wright expressed his sympathy and admiration for Carr and said that together, the police and community have to commit to needed reforms, including cultural deficiences in training and sometimes leadership, hiring of more officers of color and promotion of the highest ethical standards.

Jean Jordan, president of the New London NAACP, said Carr had been in town three years ago to the day, and it was about time she was invited back.

Also among the guest speakers was State Treasurer Shawn T. Wooden, who said it is incumbent on everyone to radically transform policing, but also to address disparities in health care, education and housing.

"In addition to protests and vigils, we have to do the hard work in the coming years," he said.

Several NAACP youth leaders were featured prominently at the event, including Aaliyah Staten, secretary of the youth council, who served as the event's MC. Ayana Yard, 8, who with her siblings and cousins wore matching shirts and face masks that said, "I Can't Breathe," recited a poem, "Hey Black Child," by Countee Cullen, to rousing applause.

k.florin@theday.com

 

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