America woke up to heartbreaking news on Saturday. Just a few years after becoming a highly visible activist against police brutality, Erica Garner has died at just 27 years old following a heart attack. The announcement was made via her Twitter account this morning. "The reports are real," the tweet reads. "We didn't deserve her."
Garner became an outspoken opponent of police brutality after her father, Eric, died at the hands of the New York City Police Department in 2014. Eric suffered a heart attack in Staten Island after being arrested and put in a chokehold by police. As he died, he screamed "I can’t breathe," a phrase that became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement, which started partly in response to Eric’s death.
Soon after her father’s death, Garner started speaking out against the treatment that Eric received by the NYPD. She returned where her father had died each week, and at one point even staged a “die-in” at the location to bring attention to the issue.
Only five months after his death, a grand jury decided not to indict the officer responsible for killing him. In an interview with The Guardian, Garner said she almost expected the decision, telling the newspaper, that when "my father’s case came down, it’s almost like I was expecting it." Nevertheless, she remained determined to fix a broken system:
I’d rather be angry on a march and channel it with all those people and project it in my voice. Because now people are looking to me so I have to keep pressing on for my father and end the cycle of violence. You can’t fight violence with violence.
On Monday, Garner's mother, Esaw Snipes, told The New York Times that her daughter had been put into a medically-induced coma after suffering a heart attack. By Thursday, a cat scan showed that she had suffered major brain damage, and by Saturday, she had died.
Messages of support immediately poured out on social media following news of Garner’s death, with many supporters tweeting out their wishes that she “Rest in Power,” and expressing shame at the fact that her life was cut so tragically short. Garner had gone into cardiac arrest as the result of an asthma attack — a condition from which her father, too, suffered.
Mic shared a video highlighting Garner's extraordinary journey, noting that there was rarely a day that Garner wasn’t out fighting for justice — not only for her father, but for countless other individuals that had suffered police brutality.
As the video noted, Garner’s activism actually resulted in sustainable policy changes. She successfully lobbied New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to issue an executive order to appoint a temporary special prosecutor for cases where law enforcement officers are involved in the death of civilians. Even after this accomplishment, Garner pushed further, and continued to fight for a permanent special prosecutor for these cases.
During the 2016 presidential election, Garner campaigned with candidate Bernie Sanders. In an ad that aired in February of that year, she voiced her support for him and talked about how she tried to project her activist ideals onto her young daughter. "Alyssa misses my dad," she says. "She wishes he was her so her mom wouldn't be sad anymore."
Now, young Alyssa has lost not only her grandfather, but her mom, too. One thing that Garner did leave behind though, are countless reminders of why she fought for justice, which will now serve as memories of her life. "I've absolutely discovered what I want to do with my life," she said in an interview with Elle back in 2015. "Before, I was just kind of aimless, not sure what I was going to be doing. Now I know."