Today would have marked the 23rd birthday of Trayvon Martin. And as we honor and uplift his memory on this day, I can’t help but think about other Black men who had their lives taken unfairly and whose families are still fighting for justice. Like Eric Garner.
I had the opportunity to speak with Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, as she promoted the new TV One series Two Sides. The four-part docu-series, which airs on Monday nights at 10 p.m. ET and is executive produced by Viola Davis and husband Julius Tennon, offers a look into the cases of both Black men and women whose deaths are officer related. That includes Ezell Ford, John Crawford, Sandra Bland, and Garner. In the one-hour episodes, they examine the ways in which each case made its mark on conversations about race and police brutality while speaking to family as well as law enforcement.
In my conversation with Carr, we spoke about the ways in which she works to feel a connection to her son after death, why the pros outweigh the cons of his death being taped for the world to see, and the importance of forgiving herself for his killing as his parent.
MadameNoire: I know a few years ago you were asked about the idea of forgiveness. I know you were saying it’s been hard for you to fathom the idea, likely because of the lack of justice that’s been received. Do you feel if some form of justice was served, you could possibly forgive the man who killed your son?
Gwen Carr: Probably so, but you know, when we say forgive, sometimes we have to forgive for our sake so that we can go on with our life. Although, we’re only human. Sometimes that human element is there no matter what we do or how we try to execute, but I just feel like if there is some type of justice, some type of closure, then I can start to forgive. Because when we say forgive, it doesn’t meant that we have to have the person that we forgive come to the family picnics or be in our lives or whatever. And sometimes I feel guilty. I’ve talked to other mothers in the same situation that I am, and when we speak of forgiveness, sometimes we have to forgive ourselves. Sometimes we feel guilty because our sons are gone. We think, if we were just there, maybe there was something we could have done about it. Although, that may not be true, but as a parent, as a mother, you feel that way. So, I guess when the time comes I will have a forgiving heart.
My brother was killed in 2006, and so for my mom, what she does is she goes to his grave every other day. If she doesn’t, she is really distraught about it. That’s her way of staying connected to him.
I say to that, you grieve the way you grieve. People grieve in different ways. Me, I went to his grave in a snowstorm one time. It was one of these big snowstorms, but it was just on my mind. I didn’t know it was going to be a snowstorm, but I had already planned to go to my son’s grave on this day. The day came and the weather was bad. But I told my husband, “I’m still going” because it was on my mind. So when we get there, when I saw how high the snow was, I said, “They might not even let us in.” But when I went to the gatekeeper, they said, “Oh yeah, you can go in.” But they had to get the thing where they can find the graves because they couldn’t even see it. It was so snowed in. But I went there, I stood there, and we were there for all of a half an hour. And you know, I stood there, I took pictures and I just talked to my son because I felt to do that on that day. So, with your mother doing that, this is her way. This is her outlet. This is what she does.
Yeah, and I was going to ask you in what ways do you regularly stay connected with your son?
I think about the good things. The good times that we’ve had. I focus on that. Over there on Bay Street where he was killed, my husband built a little memorial over there. It’s over there by the beauty supply store. People say, “How do you still go to that beauty supply store?” But you know, I feel connected when I go over there. And the two men who own that store, they treat me so well when I go in there. They always give me discounts [laughs]. And then I stop and look at the memorial. In fact, it’s in the segment at the end when my son’s youngest daughter is over there putting the flowers on the little memorial. But I stop and I look and I reminisce. This last summer I had a picnic over there. People say, “You could have a picnic over there?” I just feel like this is where he breathed his last breath. I want to be over here. Instead of running away from it, I want to be connected to it.
Technology has changed everything. So I wanted to ask, how have you dealt with this loss in the sense that it was captured on camera? Obviously, nobody wants to see anything like that with the loss of their child, because in some ways you have to relive it. But there is the pro that it let people know what’s really going on out here and what happened to him. How have you dealt with that both sides of that coin?
I am very, very grateful for the video. Even though we didn’t get an indictment and everyone saw the video, it brought awareness. Everyone not only in the nation but in the world saw that video. Everybody has an opinion about that video. And that’s a good thing because that opened up the conversation and they’re saying, “It was wrong what they did,” and there are two sides. But everybody has seen what happened that day. So without the video, it was a whole different scenario. The police had already given a report before they knew there was a video and said my son, they were attempting to arrest him and he had a heart attack. That’s what their report was. It wasn’t even about them putting their hands on him or anything. Then when the video came out, they had to retract their story. But no one was punished. Nobody stood accountable for their lies and everyone who was there concurred with what the police officer said. So they all should have been held accountable because it was a blatant lie what they had signed off to. But it didn’t happen. Thank God for the video and thank God for Ramsey Orta who had the nerve and the courage to stand there and videotape it. And it wasn’t only Ramsey Orta. There was a second video where the young lady was inside the store, inside the beauty supply store, and she caught the ending of the police officer actually taking my son to put him into the ambulance. She caught all of the background of what happened, and that was a good thing too. So, you know, I just thank God. God works in mysterious ways and I never thought that, or never dreamed, that I would be the vessel that carried the son that everybody would know what his name was.