On July 17, 2014, at approximately 3:30 p.m. in Staten Island, New York, Eric Garner was approached by New York City police officers who suspected him of selling loose cigarettes. Moments later, after being placed in a chokehold deemed illegal by New York City, the life of Eric Garner ended. Though the incident was caught on video and Garner can clearly be heard saying “I can’t breathe,” a grand jury failed to indict the officer who killed him, sparking nationwide protests.
Four days before the anniversary of Garner’s death, the city Of New York reached an agreement with Garner’s family to settle the case out of court for $5.9 million. Though the Garner family almost certainly would have received more in a court settlement, they didn’t want to continue reliving an incident that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. In this instance, the value of a Black man’s life, that of Eric Garner, was worth $5.9 million. But what is the cost of a Black man’s life?
Life is invaluable, irreplaceable, yet in this country, far too many lives of black men are lost, at little to no cost, and certainly not that of $5.9 million. I am certain the Garner family would gladly trade the money for the life of their loved one. At the same time, it is a victory, outside of the financial aspect, to get New York City to amount to wrongdoing.
If municipalities like New York City were forced to pay $5.9 million every time a Black man was murdered, the senseless killings would end. But the truth is, it feels as if this country is more concerned about the well-being of people in other nations while the genocide of Black men continues within this country.
But what if the value of every murdered Black man was $5.9 million? The country would either go bankrupt or it would stop. In 2013, the last year statistics are available, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the No. 1 cause of death of Black men ages 15-34 is homicide, with killings making up nearly half of all deaths for Black men ages 15-24. While there are no statistics available on the number of black men lost to homicide in 2013, the number is thought to be at least in the hundreds.
But the families of countless, nameless Black men who die every day in this country aren’t going to receive $5.9 million or even a fraction of that money. These Black men barely receive social media or news media attention, and their families even less. In cities like Chicago, Baltimore and New York, young Black men are dying every day, and not enough seem to give a damn. Metaphorically speaking, I can’t breathe when I read about the countless murders of Black men and the CDC statistics. Unfortunately, when Eric Garner said “I can’t breathe” while the life was being choked out of him, he wasn’t speaking metaphorically, and neither are the countless, nameless Black men who take their last breath every day as a result of homicide.