The Boerum Hill church was packed to capacity, and even with the air conditioning the auditorium was sweltering, but that didn’t stop the many speakers who rose to pay respects, offer condolences, and affirm commitments to honoring Garner’s final proclamation: “It ends today.”
Rev. Al Sharpton was among those to speak at the funeral, offering support for the family, motivation for activists and reprimand to the NYPD for allowing such a tragedy to occur.
“Let me tell you something. With all of these cases, you always had an excuse. You said I thought that he had a gun. Well, I thought Sean was going for a gun,” Sharpton said. “Well, what did you think this time when you saw no gun, no weapon? What did you think this time?”
Sharpton lauded the man who recorded the incident that lead to Garner’s death on video, Ramsey Orta, as well.
“This young man showed more respect for the law, for human life, for decency than the police and the EMS workers, they ought to follow his example,” Sharpton said. “He came around and said this is wrong and I’m going to video it. This city ought to thank God that when the police and EMS failed us, there was a Ramsey Orta.”
Outside the church, the sidewalks were crowded with supporters who gathered hours in advance to mourn Garner and the situation that led to his death.
“It could’ve been anyone regardless of color,” said Cynthia Turnquest-Jones. “The thing that alarms me is the lack of being able to have dialogue. A lot of that can come from intimidation. It appears as if the police are intimidated for their part and the communities are intimidated for theirs.”
Many were critical of NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton’s statement that he plans to enact a thorough retraining of his officers.
“In his swearing-in ceremony, [Bill Bratton] professed a commitment to getting every member of the NYPD to treat all New Yorkers with respect regardless of background, their class and their race. I think he’s off to a bad start,” A.J. Woodson said. “That was January and this is July, and this isn’t the first incident this year?”
Joshua Lopez, a long-time activist pushing for change within the NYPD, agreed with Woodson’s view that policy change isn’t going far enough.
“The best retraining is a tough approach to stuff like this with a thorough investigation,” Lopez said. “The commissioner is talking about new changes, but there were changes 20 years ago. They changed that procedure and the cops are still doing it. So what makes us believe him that things are going to change?”
Garner was described by friends as a “gentle giant,” and his death is seen by some, such as Francois Shakur of the Brooklyn Peacekeepers, as evidence of continued racial tensions and fears between the NYPD and the black community.
“That chokehold was outlawed when a young brother in the Bronx was killed. His name was Ernest Alvarez,” Shakur said. “For that officer to use that again it was a terrible, negligent, murderous act. He had no regard for that man’s life as many officers in the black community have no regard for many of the blacks. They see us all as perpetrators.”