WASHINGTON, December 6, 2014 — From police to politicians to pundits to protestors, people are talking about what Eric Garner experienced just before he died. They pontificate and speculate, but really, they don’t know what Eric Garner felt.
But I do. Graphically. Horrifically. Personally.
One moment you are standing on a street, talking to friends and colleagues, watching people gather. An instant later, there are 5, 6, 7 people surrounding you, encircling you, blocking your vision and assaulting your senses. And the world spins.
In less than the time it takes to inhale, it gets loud. The space around you explodes with sound, and all you hear is unintelligible roaring. You feel foreign force on your body, incredible weight on your back, your arms, your legs as you are spun around and disoriented. The assault comes from hard surfaces striking your softer body. You do not feel hands or arms, but hard Kevlar, wooden batons, fists.
You are immobilized. The space around you shrinks as the sound pounds and the police push and prod. And you begin to panic, to fight to survive. It’s an automatic response. You can’t control it.
An arm goes around your neck, hard forearm pressing against your throat, connecting with someone grabbing your left hand. From behind, someone presses their weight across your back, pushing your forward. Your right arm is now beneath you, as you instinctively reached out to break your fall.
You can’t move.
Someone demands you put your arm behind your back, the arm that is pinned beneath your body and 600 pounds of police. You try to move but the arm is wedged solid. When you can’t give them the arm they want, they scream “stop resisting.”
You are not resisting. You are not doing anything but trying to breathe and not panic.
But no one is listening. No one hears. You are a criminal, a thug, a problem, and your words fall on deaf ears.
Your face is mashed into the hood of the car, or the concrete. The pain explodes as your forehead hits the surface, and it “rings your bell.” Your hearing becomes tunneled and everything slows down. You can’t think, or shake your head to clear the clanging.
This is not happening, you think. This can’t be happening.
You try to focus. You try to understand what people are screaming at you. You try to do what they want you to do, because you want to survive. But they won’t let you. They keep screaming, “stop resisting arrest” not because you are, but because it is their excuse for brutality.
You are not resisting. You are confused. You are hurt. You are scared.
The 600 pounds of police officer suffocates you, immobilizes you, but you somehow free your arm so they can cuff you. They pull it forcefully, tearing cartilage, wrenching bone, creating more pain.
You can hear your shoulder tearing because all your senses are heightened, alert to stay alive. And you can’t breathe. The weight of the police officer, the enclosed space, the yelling, the confusion, the fear, make it impossible to do the simple task of inhaling and exhaling. Attempting to draw in air is excruciating.
The arm around your neck causes your head to go back, restricting your ability to breathe, halting blood flow. It takes all your willpower not to pass out. You are dying. For that moment, you are dying and you know it.
As your head is being forced back, someone else is banging your head forward, crashing it into the surface below you. And you start to black out. Everything becomes a void.
It takes less than a split second to go from an observer standing on the street to feeling the most incredible panic and pain one can ever feel. It is a panic you cannot believe. Your fight or flight response shrieks into overdrive.
You fear for your life. You know you will be dying soon. You know you will be killed by cop.
Eric Garner knew he was going to die. Victims of police assault know they are going to die.
Eric Garner could not breathe because you cannot. It feels as if you are simultaneously having a heart attack and being pile driven.
The police know this. That is why they thought Eric Garner was ok. That it would pass in a few seconds. Because once those seconds of panic pass, they have you standing. And they believe it will be ok. The person will be ok.
I survived because I knew what was happening and I tried to control my response.
But Eric Garner died. The coroner ruled “homicide by chokehold.” Nothing could have been clearer. For someone who has been there, they know. I know. Eric Garner was killed by cop.
Unlike Eric Garner, I survived.
I am older than Eric Garner, was older that Eric Garner at the time of my arrest. I have given birth, broken bones, have more than once found myself in a situation where panic would kill me: auto, watercraft and scuba diving accidents.
I have had to be calm and assist more than one child, including my own, in life threatening situations. I could do panic better than most. I can’t anymore.
I was arrested for doing far less than Eric Garner. I was doing my job with a large media badge around my neck. I was an invited guest on private, not public property. I have no record or previous arrest.
Like Eric Garner, I was not doing anything wrong. I was doing less than nothing
Even if I had been doing something wrong by standing there, the charge was a misdemeanor, not a felony. I did not deserve to lose my life, my sense of peace or have my shoulder permanently damaged.
The worst is having to live with the PTS I suffer from as a result of the unmitigated, total panic you feel when you are swarmed in a takedown, put into a chokehold.
Your body remembers being wrenched in ways it is not intended to be pulled, pushed and prodded.
I am forever changed and feel that never again will I know complete peace in a public place; I can be attacked out of nowhere, at anytime.
And so can you. Make no mistake about this. The police know what they are doing. They know that they are creating a situation of total confusion and panic for the person they are attacking. It’s a military tactic, a form of “shock and awe,” a way to crush resistance before it can be offered.
It is a violent, orchestrated attack. It is brutal. It is animalistic. It is without mercy. And it is intentional. The police go from zero to crazed in less than the blink of an eye. They are trained that way. It is a tool they use.
Like the police who took Eric Garner down, the police who destroyed my sense of peace and security took on the role of judge, jury and executioner.
And that has to change.
I survived. Eric Garner didn’t. And not a day goes by, not a thought goes through my mind that is not followed by the realization that I could have been killed that night.
I survived. Eric Garner didn’t.
The police need to be stopped before they kill again. Because next time, it might be you. Your son. Your husband. Your daughter, wife, friend.
Note:This story is true. Every word of it. I am withholding my name as I fear reprisal from the police. And it does not matter. This happens everyday to ordinary, non-violent Americans. Any one of them could author this.