Nearly six years after her son was placed in a chokehold by a New York City police officer, gasping for his last breath pleading, “I can’t breathe,” Gwen Carr is forced to relive her nightmare all over again. The mother of Eric Garner watched in horror as another Black man gasped those same last words while his neck was constricted under the knee of a Minneapolis policeman.
George Floyd, 46, died Monday (May 25), shortly after being arrested under suspicion of forgery, police said. He was pinned under the knee of Derek Chauvin, a 19-year veteran of the police force, who was fired along with Tou Thao, who was once sued for excessive force, and two other officers at the scene.
Nationwide outrage resulted and protests took place in the area of the incident. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey has called for criminal charges to be brought against Chauvin in connection with Floyd’s death, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
But Carr remembers all too well a similar incident in July 2014 in Staten Island, NY in which her son had been detained by officers for selling loose cigarettes. When they tried to arrest him, they placed him in a chokehold to subdue him, but he asphyxiated from the pressure to his throat. The officer who held him, Daniel Pantaleo was never indicted by a grand jury, but was eventually fired in August 2019.
Carr spoke with Floyd’s family in a conversation facilitated by civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton and the National Action Network. She said that she felt hurt because Floyd’s death so eerily echoed that of her son’s.
“I feel the pain and hurt from George’s family and my whole heart goes out to them,” said Carr through a statement. “As I was talking to them, I relived what happened to Eric and tears overwhelmed me. I will work with NAN and Rev. Sharpton and supporters of George Floyd as we fight for accountability and justice.”
In an interview with NBC News, Carr was critical of Chauvin’s methods in subduing Floyd. "Why would you keep your knee there?" she said. "After three minutes, you don't realize that this man is saying that he can't breathe? And he's struggling, struggling for life?"
Although the FBI has become involved in the investigation, Carr said she was skeptical of the agency’s involvement because Attorney General William Barr determined last year that Pantaleo should not be charged. She went through a legal rollercoaster for years to see what, if anything, could be done to gain justice for her son’s life, but never saw Pantaleo or any of the officers who stood aside punished to her satisfaction.
Carr has been successful in lobbing Congress for a federal law against police chokeholds. “Violent police tactics have no place in our society,” she said at a congressional hearing in September 2019. “And when there are no national standards for conduct, officers, like the one who killed Eric, can use a banned maneuver and face no consequences. Chokeholds should never be used by police, and we must have federal policy that enforces this so that no other family endures the travesty of injustice that we have.”
Floyd’s family wants charges brought against all of the officers who were at the scene of his death.
“I feel like those guys need to be put in jail,” said Floyd’s sister Bridgett Floyd on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “They murdered my brother, they killed him. They don’t need to walk the streets and mess around and this happens to another family.
“They need to apply more pressure on these guys,” she continued. “Firing them is just not enough.”
As for Carr, who has lived in this reality for the last six years, her thoughts now lie with Floyd’s family.
"I hope this family doesn't need to suffer like I suffered for six years," she told NBC News.
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