Esaw Garner, wife of the late Eric Garner, encouraged students to vote and get involved in the movement against police brutality at a reception on campus Wednesday.
Garner was the keynote speaker at the UCLA Community Programs Office’s annual reception, which was held at the Anderson Alumni Plaza. The event also featured food from various cultures, performances by student groups and a prayer led by members of the Muslim Student Association.
In July, Eric Garner was arrested by police in New York for selling untaxed cigarettes, and he died after an officer put him in a chokehold. Garner has since been a symbol of the national movement against police brutality.
Garner said her husband was her kindred soul, and fought back tears as she narrated the time she was told her husband had died.
“After being married with someone for 28 years, you know when something’s wrong,” she said. “When his heart stops, mine stops.”
At the end of her speech, Garner said she is lobbying to ban police officers from using chokeholds in the state of New York. She said she also participates in protests around the country in an effort to ensure that what happened to her husband does not happen to anyone else.
“If (the New York Legislature) does not do something about this, we’re going to shut New York down,” she said. “I just don’t trust the police.”
Antonio Sandoval, director of the CPO, said the purpose of Garner’s speech at the reception was to educate students on current events and expose them to newsmakers who influence the policy debate.
Brittany Bolden, an assistant to Sandoval who helped plan the reception, said the CPO decided early on to make police brutality the reception’s theme. Organizers wanted a speaker who was a major figure in the protest movement.
Bolden said she thinks there needs to be more action rather than just dialogue, and she thinks Garner’s speech helped convey that.
Some members of the audience said they were able to able to connect with Garner, and her speech helped them better understand the issue of police brutality.
“I think her narrative really helped me get a personal picture of the issue,” said Rafael Garibay, a first-year business economics student.
Maria Marquez, a third-year history student, said her family’s undocumented background helped her connect with Garner.
“When I listened to her speak, I thought of my mom and what it would be like if my dad was deported,” she said. “Her speech made me realize how privileged I am to be here at UCLA.”