‘I Can’t Breathe’: Pleas from Minnesota Man Force Eric Garner’s Wife to Relive Tragedy

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Eric and Esaw Garner - COURTESY PHOTO / AMERICAN TRIAL: THE ERIC GARNER STORY
  • Courtesy Photo / American Trial: The Eric Garner Story
  • Eric and Esaw Garner
Three words still haunt Esaw Garner six years after her husband Eric Garner was killed by a New York Police Department officer during an arrest for selling loose cigarettes. Those same three words rang in her ears again Tuesday night.

“I can’t breathe,” were the words Eric Garner repeated 11 times while Officer Daniel Pantaleo held him around his neck on the sidewalk in a chokehold. This time, the words were coming from another African American man — 46-year-old security guard George Floyd, a Houston native and St. Louis Park, Minnesota, resident who died while being restrained by a police officer.



“It was like watching my husband die all over again,” Esaw Garner told the Current during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. “It was horrifying.”

On Monday, video footage went viral that showed white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the back of Floyd’s neck for more than seven minutes. During those agonizing minutes, Floyd pleads with Chauvin, “I can’t breathe,” “I’m about to die” and “Don’t kill me.”



The recorded incident came after police said Floyd “physically resisted” their order for him to exit his vehicle, so they could investigate a “forgery in progress.”

Video shows Chauvin’s knee on the back of Floyd’s neck even after he stops speaking and moving. Emergency medical services arrived and transported Floyd to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Late Tuesday evening, Garner said she watched the video of Floyd for the first time, even after her children asked her not to.

“I chose to look at it and I [cried],” Garner said. “I came downstairs and my sons asked me, ‘What did you watch that for?’”

Although she understands the similarities between the incidents, Garner would rather people not compare Floyd’s death to her husband’s.

“They need to view each individual incident and not compare it like if it’s some competition,” she said. “It’s weird.”

Her message for Floyd’s family is simple: prepare yourself.

“Prepare yourself for the long haul,” she said. “Prepare yourself mentally and physically. Prepare yourself for all the people who say they are going to be there and are not there.”

Pantaleo never went to trial because the grand jury decided not to indict him. And Garner said the way police officers treat black people has not improved in the slightest since her husband’s death. Floyd’s death, she added, is more proof of that.

“[The police] don’t care,” she said. “They have no regard. They think they can do what they want to do because they have that badge. It’s gotten worse. It’s a bunch of bullshit. They need to be held accountable for their actions.”

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