Eric Garner was a part of my community when I lived back on my hometown of Staten Island, NYC the past 2 years. The man greeted me on the daily while walking to my favorite commune-run used bookstore & cafe on a street called Baby Bay Street (which me and my homegirls renamed Baby Bae Street).
It’s a lawless block. These are the slums of Shaolin. It’s got a feeling of Los Angeles’ skidrow, but less imposing, possibly grimier – depending on the day and hour. But we also smiled a lot on this block. Said hi to our homies on this block. Bought dinner on this block.
You see, on the block you got a Dominican buffet, a liquor store, an analog-only recording studio, a wannabe art gallery, a deli and some friends who live there. This will all change.
There’s also a shitty park across the street which was historically where the Dutch colonialists filled up on water before voyage back to Europe, as a river used to end there. But today, we live on a much different island.
“Of all the boroughs, Staten Island perhaps harbors the biggest contrasts.”
It’s nuanced. I agree a lot with this article in City Lab — that this is much bigger than Staten Island being Staten Island. And we certainly can not let that be the excuse for this tragedy. The Washington Post also took a look at the racial divide on Staten Island.
We have a highway that residents call the Mason-Dixon Line for goodness sake. As a teenager, I had to mask a lot of myself on the daily as I traveled from the North Shore (where I lived) to the South Shore (where I went to school). Any person of color who is from the Island will tell you this experience.
You learn to survive it. I even wonder if coming from this environment has prepared me even more for the cold world than say, if we were raised in Queens.
I wrote this piece last year to try to begin a new narrative about Staten Island by speaking to creatives in my community who are making a difference.
Gary Nieves Jr. – who owns the recording studio I mentioned earlier and whose band I’ll reference in a bit – identified the problem most accurately: “There is a conservative, backward-thinking mindset here that I believe is rooted in geographical factors—the isolation of living on an island.”
Anyway, Eric always greeted me with smiles. People who knew him more on the block called him Big E, as he was a defacto bodyguard for the recording studio where he also sold loosies on the steps. Cops rarely came to the block. Until July 17th. He should not have been bothered by the cops that day. He should not of died.
We should not have even seen it, either.
But we all did. The whole world has. And I think all a lot of us in the hood can hope for now is that this is the spark for something more. And it seems we’re going that way.
It makes me so happy to see protests like today on Staten Island. I think protestors ought to come to Staten Island and shake things up to a) make people uncomfortable where we need to the most and b) show those on the Island who are being silent that they are not alone.
Mostly, I want to remember Eric’s smile, laugh and humanity.
Staten Island-based band and local favorite, The Rising Sun All Stars just released this track over the weekend: ““I Can’t Breathe” was written in the wake of recurring national tragedies. Recorded just a few feet from the scene of our friend Eric Garner’s untimely death, the songs lyrics reflect both anger and sorrow, while the music carries the backbeat of our Staten Island roots. All proceeds will be donated to the Garner family.”
This mix by Underdog the DJ has also been personally helping me a lot.
Let this be the soundtrack of the future, where we remember these events, narrated by cameraman Ramsey Orta (the only person indicted from the incident).Let the outrage continue to burn until all black lives matter:
Artwork by Oree Originol.