Annie Wright

Annie Wright

Annie Wright is a founding member of Vane Women, the writing, performing and publishing collective based in northeast England. She runs poetry workshops in southwest Scotland and edits for several presses including Vane Women Press.

Eleven
Wednesday, 17 March 2021 14:44

Eleven

Published in Poetry

Eleven
(i.m. Eric Garner 17th July 2014)

by Annie Wright, with image by John Minchillo

Incident

Eric Garner, neighbourhood peacemaker, has just stopped
a fight on Bay Street, Staten Island, New York NYPD
when he’s accused of selling loosies* without a licence by five cops.

Pantaleo tries to cuff him, slams him to his knees,
then pushes Eric’s face into the sidewalk.
Garner’s saying I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.

The black female sergeant, Adonis, doesn’t intervene,
later saying it didn’t seem serious. I can’t breathe –
I can’t breathe I can’t breathe I can’t breathe

She didn’t think he was distressed. I can’t breathe
Pantaleo has still got him in a chokehold, illegal
in New York State. I can’t breathe I can’t breathe

A cop calls an ambulance. Mr Garner’s having trouble
breathing. Eric’s friend, Ramsey Orta, films it on his phone;
he can’t breathe bro – he can’t breathe. He redoubles

his efforts, but it’s going to be too late. I can’t breathe
I can’t breathe. He’s gone.
They turn him on his side to ease breathing and for seven minutes leave

him. Sirens screaming, four medics arrive, don’t give Eric any medical
aid or oxygen, or even get him quickly on a stretcher.
Eric Garner has a heart attack on the way to hospital.

One hour later he’s pronounced dead at the Medical Center
in New York State, where he couldn’t breathe,
he couldn’t breathe.

*loosies – individual cigarettes

History

Between 1980 and his death, Eric was arrested
30 times, for assault, resisting arrest and grand
larceny for selling unlicensed cigarettes.

In 2007 he filed a complaint in federal court
against a police officer for conducting a cavity search,
digging his fingers in my rectum in the street.

In 2013 Pantaleo was the subject of two civil rights
lawsuits, accused of abuse, false arrests and ordering
two black men to strip naked on the street to be searched.

Aftermath

20th July 2014, Pantaleo and D’Amico
are on desk duty with Pantaleo stripped
of his badge and gun. Four paramedics
are suspended. Two return to work,

the others are kept on non-medical
duties, pending an inquiry. On 1st August
the medical examiner rules Eric’s death
as homicide resulting from neck and chest

compression, and prone positioning
during physical restraint by police.
When the New York Times wrongly claims
the medical examiner found no damage

to windpipe or neckbones, Eric’s family pay
for a second autopsy. It agrees with the first,
citing clear evidence of haemorrhaging
around the neck indicative of chokehold.

The NYPD call the word chokehold political,
opt for legal takedown move instead.
They defend not using CPR as the suspect was
still breathing on his own, hold him responsible –

If he hadn’t had asthma, a heart condition
and been so obese, he wouldn’t have died.

Al Sharpton speaks at Eric’s funeral in Bethel
Baptist Church, Brooklyn, condemning chokeholds.
He organises a protest in Staten Island and
a march of over 2,500 down Bay Street.

On 19th August the District Attorney decides
Pantaleo must appear before a Grand Jury.
Under New York law proceedings are secret
and even the family are not allowed access.

On 29th September the grand jury begins
hearing evidence. On 21st November
Pantaleo is called, testifies for two hours.
The family file a wrongful death lawsuit.

After two months of deliberation, the verdict,
on 3rd December is not to indite Pantaleo.
13th July 2015, Eric’s family accept an out-
of-court settlement of 5.9 million dollars.

Repercussions

In New York City and San Francisco
protesters demonstrate with several ‘die-ins’.
Thousands protest in Boston, Chicago

Washington DC, Baltimore, Minneapolis,
Berkeley and Atlanta. Counter-protesters
carry signs saying Bluelivesmatter.

New York’s mayor call Eric’s death
a terrible tragedy, but doesn’t fire
the officers responsible. Cuomo, New York’s

governor, speaking of police brutality,
confirms on TV – We have a problem.
Let’s acknowledge it. Obama states

that Garner’s death and the legal outcome
is an American problem. George W. Bush
finds the grand jury verdict hard to understand.

Coda

Erica Garner, Eric’s daughter, leads
fortnightly protests in Bay Street

until she dies in December 2017
from a heart attack aged 27.

Five years after the killing, Pantaleo
and D’Amico face a disciplinary hearing.

D’Amico admits falsifying evidence, claiming
Garner had been selling 10,000 cigarettes

when less than a hundred had been found.
After the hearing the judge recommends

Pantaleo be fired after overwhelming evidence
he had used a chokehold, gross deviation from

conduct established for an NYC police officer.
19th August 2019 his employment was terminated.

On 8th June 2020, the New York state assembly passes
the Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act. Any police officer

who injures or kills using a chokehold can be charged
with felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Afterword

Before he became too ill, Eric worked
for New York City parks as a horticulturist.
I like to think of him harvesting seeds,
nurturing young plants, cultivating trees.

There’s a photo of him smiling, holding
a bottle for his youngest daughter,
so tiny she fits into his palm; just
three months old when he died.

I think of Esaw, his wife of 26 years,
six years on playing herself in the film
American Trial: The Eric Garner Story,
positing events if the case had been tried;

of Erica’s two boys, the youngest named
for his grandfather, a four-month-old
and his brother left motherless,
no grandad to play Santa Claus;

of Emerald, his daughter, fighting
for police to be held accountable by law,
using the anger of having to watch
her father die repeatedly on national TV;

of Gwen Carr, his mother, who retired
to devote her life to Civil Rights, sharing
platforms with Al Sharpton, campaigning
for police reform and Black Lives Matter.

This Stops Today said Gwen in 2018.
Only it didn’t and to our shame it hasn’t.

Wednesday, 17 March 2021 14:42

Whose Son Next? 

Published in Poetry

Whose Son Next? 
(i.m. Trayvon Martin 26th February 2012)

by 

The Incident

A boy’s walking back to his dad’s
girlfriend’s place in Sanford, Florida
with a pack of Skittles, can of Arizona
iced tea from the 7-Eleven for his bro,

in time for the NBA All-Stars game.
Earphones in, he’s chatting to his girl,
oblivious; it’s early, no-one’s around,
no reason for vigilance.

A man cruises by in a truck, self-appointed
neighbourhood watch vigilante,
George Zimmerman, looking for trouble;
thinks his luck is in, he’s found it.

He calls 911, reports a real suspicious guy…
up to no good, on drugs or something.
It’s raining and he’s just walking around
looking about. This is Zimmerman’s

46th 911 call since the New Year.
And he’s a black male… something’s wrong
with him… got something in his hands…
These assholes, they always get away.

Shit, he’s running! The operator thinks
he’s left his vehicle to run after the male.
Are you following him? Yep.
OK, we don’t need you to do that.

Trayvon tells his girlfriend a stranger’s
following him. She tells him to run, hears
him say, What are you following me for?
The reply, What are you doing round here?

She hears shoving and the line goes dead.
It is 7.16pm. Police arrive on the scene
at 7.17. Trayvon’s lying on the ground
fatally wounded, a bullet in his chest.

Freeze-frame the scene right here. Imagine
you’re a cop who’s just jumped out.
A black boy is on the ground, barely alive,
a man’s brandishing a gun, admits

he shot the youth but claims self-defence.
You’ve seen crime dramas, know the score;
paramedics try everything, police cuff
the gunman, get statements off neighbours

who called 911. Wrong. This is Florida: the law
allows anyone to ‘stand their ground’, fire
a gun if they think they’re under threat.
The man’s not breathalysed, arrested or charged.

Nicknamed Crazy-Legs because he never sat still,
the boy will be taken to the morgue in a body bag,
his corpse tested for alcohol and drugs – negative.
Despite slurring his speech, Zimmerman goes home.

Aftermath

March 2012 and still no arrest: hundreds
of students at Trayvon’s High School hold
a walkout in support. A white supremacist ‘s

hacked Trayvon’s email and twitter, making
selective posts on The Daily Caller and Gawker
to suggest violations, violent tendencies.

The day before the funeral in Miami,
more than a thousand queue to view
Trayvon’s remains, pay their respects.

2.2 million sign an online petition, seeking full
investigation and Zimmerman’s prosecution;
police still claiming no grounds for arrest.

Trayvon’s parents, Tracy and Sybrina,
contact Benjamin Crump, civil rights
attorney, who takes on the case, pro bono.

The Million Hoodie March is held
in Manhattan, against racial profiling
of non-white youths in hoodies.

Media coverage of Trayvon Martin
overtakes reporting on the presidential
race. Obama goes on record – If I had

a son he would look like Trayvon.
Romney calls for an inquiry so justice
can be carried out… with integrity.
Whose Son Next? Page 3

44 days on, Zimmerman’s arrested
and charged. In June the Martins deliver
a petition with 340,000 signatures asking

for changes to the stand-your-ground law.
The task force eventually reports back,
recommending against repealing the statute.

July 10th 2013, the case goes to court.
Zimmerman pleads innocent to murder
and manslaughter. On July 13th

the jury – 6 women, 5 white, 1 black –
agree and acquit him. Obama says Trayvon
Martin could have been me, 35 years ago.

A girl posts online – black lives
matter – the message goes viral
and a movement is born.

3 years after the shooting, the US Justice
Department closes its investigation,
will not bring a civil rights charge

as the killing was not race-based,
not motivated by hatred. Trayvon’s
parents’ hearts are broken again.

Repercussions

Is this where the story ends?
Well, no. Tracy and Sybrina set up
a foundation in Trayvon’s name

to support other parents who’ve lost
their children to violence.
Rest in Power takes 5 years

to write. We don’t portray
Trayvon as being an angel…
but he was our angel.

Zimmerman sells the gun
he used to kill, online,
for 138,900 dollars,

claims some of the proceeds
will be used to fight
Black Lives Matter violence
Whose Son Next? Page 4

against law enforcement
officers. He’s currently suing
Trayvon’s parents for 100 million

dollars for defamation, conspiracy
and malicious prosecution
in the Trayvon hoax.

Coda

In the picture I have of you
the pale grey hood of a sweatshirt
haloes your adolescent face.

You could be any age between thirteen
and seventeen, faint line of hair
on your lip, ghost of a future moustache;
that vulnerable, frightened stage boys
go through. I should know – my son
was nine months younger than you
when you were killed.

The wary look, retreating into
the hoodie’s safe space.
Over and over your eyes
challenge –
How could you let this happen?

I didn’t have to teach my son
to be frightened of all white men,
especially on streets after dark;
the drill for being stopped by cops –
hands in the air, call them sir, ma’am,
keep your voice low, respectful
and never, ever answer back.

What I can do now is honour you, Trayvon,
and all the other Americans who lost
their black lives and for whom justice
was found wanting. Your lives mattered,
they matter and I can no longer stare at
your photo and say I did nothing.