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solange eric garner 2014

I would like to present an ode to two people who uniquely touched a collective conscience in a way we could feel, defend and forgive like family. Solange Knowles and Eric Garner represent a people’s choice of righteous indignation, pride and prejudice.

Unknowingly caught on camera, the world heard their voices with and without sound. Solange’s silent cinema vérité left audiences craving an explanation with bated breath while Garner’s last words are now the pulse of a global movement.

Mixed Maleficent Artist

In the world according to bees, there’s only one woman who can overthrow any government -Beyonce. Yet behind the scenes of that power ranking, there’s only one woman who has carte blanche status in B’s Queendom and bell ring entry to Hova’s Kingdom Hall.  Who can spank Blue Ivy, make the Beygency bow down, take honey from the Beehive without getting stung and throw heel-hand combo’s to Jay Z?

Mainstream media can now just say her name (say her name) without referencing her relation. Her kinship is analogous with Prince Harry and even he seems futile in regal aplomb and prowess. Forgive my imaginative metaphors but Solange’s year was something Shakespearean rivaling Game of Thrones. I picture Solange as someone who would suck the poison out of a snake bite and serve it for dinner. All while saving the snakehead for her pet dragon that is trained to obey only the women in her family. This leads us to her masterful performances.

Solange broke the internet by starring in an unauthorized movie. The reason I classify it as a movie (and not a Worldstar whopping) is because it’s a dramatic mise-en scene with a storyboard still photo cliff-hanger ending. Unlike other elevator episodes this year, the plot remained a mystery. Usually the aggravator gets villified, however, in the court of public opinion, Solange’s assault on Jay had the conviction of self-defense. Oddly, the key component that swayed the jury for Solange’s acquittal was Beyonce’s neutrality. Her household net worth explanation was a flippant dismissal meant to be above the viewer’s pay grade. But what we watched didn’t appear to have anything to do with money; it was business, family business that was very personal. One couldn’t help but presume that Solange was somehow defending her sister’s honor.

“My sister told me I should speak my mind.” – Beyonce “Flawless”

The best part, just when you thought it was over, as if disobeying the Queen’s orders, Solange re-commenced  the thrashing. She was a MMA ultimate warrior in the game of corners and the “Cray-Z in Love” love match only made the bond with their audiences stronger. Rose petals couldn’t cover up the shit they stepped in making the royals more relatable to those without Maybachs and wind machines. Still, their exit off the elevator showed that the Knowles-Carter family flaws get dealt with flawlessly.  You walked away respecting them more because each performance stayed just within the parameters that allow a family of that caliber to continue to function. Solange was “allowed” to release her rage in what they thought was a private setting, Jay didn’t put his hands on a woman and Bey didn’t choose sides. But when it was time to get in the car, Bonnie “rode” with her sister and not her mister.

Though that movie was a blockbuster, it was her self-produced sequel that qualified Solange for my person of the year. After months of capricious low key cameos in high thrift fashion, she scored a perfect ten with her wedding highlights. It was less a celebration of marital bliss and more a reinforcement of family love. The all-white affair was classically black. In the femme photo, Solange’s natural hair was adorned like a crown for her niece to see herself wearing whenever she wants. I imagine this is what a Goddess coronation looks like. The human deities were quickly made into dolls (by an inspired Swedish Geppetto) that would make Mattel envy. Speaking of envy…well actually, no need to taint this presentation mentioning those trying to keep up with the Knowles (the K is silent). With all due respect to Solange’s husband, the real scene-stealing co-star was her son. The destined child from T.O.N.Y stole our hearts with a mother-son floor routine to a song with a chorus that could have been message to whoever got a problem with her maiden name.

Despite Beyonce’s monumental success in 2014,this was the year Solange officially stepped out of her big sister’s shadow, in many ways by embodying Bey’s discography; as if it was her idea to incorporate Adichie, making the Queen look like a mere figurehead of feminism. Daughter, sister, aunt, mother, wife, gymnast who will rock the rings just to show she can do a routine better than the boys –Solange, you are every woman.

The Hood Samaritan

Critics act like race is coincidental but can’t name five unarmed white men who were killed by police in the past five years. By now we should be familiar with the stages of what happens when there is injustice to black people. Garner’s incident is unique because video captured the moments before and after death. It also resulted in all parties being very vocal. We saw the comments of some anonymous police reacting to Eric Garner’s death which was further proof of their deep rooted bias. One could even make analytic comparisons between the “N-gg-r lover” labels of Civil Rights opposition and the police union president who gave officers the option to ban the Mayor (who just happens to have a black wife and two teenagers) from their funeral should they die in the line of duty. This is unprecedented dissension. To help illustrate the warped mentality, here’s my take on some facts versus the police’s condescending perspective.

Fact #1: The Medical examiner ruled Eric Garner’s death a homicide.

Police POV: That wasn’t an illegal chokehold, it was a headlock that wouldn’t have killed him if he wasn’t so fat.

Fact #2: Eric Garner was unarmed.

Police POV: He was a threat with a criminal record.

Fact #3: He said “I can’t breathe” 11 times.

Police POV: Does poor hearing qualify me for a disability check in addition to my paid administrative leave?

Fact #4: Neither the police nor EMS attempted CPR on the scene while he laid motionless.

Police POV: The perp was still breathing after we subdued him and left him on the ground.

“The weirdest thing about being a black man being choked by the police, Chappelle said, is that you don’t even wonder why it’s happening. You just think, he said, ‘OK, here we go.’”

–Dave Chappelle interview

In broad stroke, they say crime is down but since crime is constant in black communities they have to police where the crime is (I won’t even get into Rudy Giuliani’s comments on Meet the Press). The black community knows a lot about the crimes committed by cops that are falsified or go unreported. We know how much they depend on crime to boost their salaries. That’s why we lionize people like Larry Davis who beat them at their own corrupt game before meeting his demise. The hood pays for many police mortgages in Staten Island and all those places beyond the pines. Officers partaking in criminal activity are enabled under radar to opt in or out. Crime pays and it’s not just a few bad apples.

Precincts are under quota pressure to produce a pipeline for the privatized prison industrial complex. Mike Brown’s death helped shed light on how municipalities like St. Louis profit from poverty. John Crawford III’s death helped shed light on questionable interrogation tactics and shocking findings from the Justice Department regarding Cleveland Police. Eric Garner’s last words have become a rally cry for reform. Police have dealt with the protests well, yet and still, black and white protestors have gotten different treatment. The demand for police body cameras will be a great step to reduce similar incidents, but the main goal should be national elimination of the antiquated and unbalanced Grand Jury system.  Click here to read why.

Eric Garner broke the internet when his friend recorded his lynching (not to be confused with the Lennon Lacy federal investigation). The reason I classify it as a lynching was because he was put into an illegal chokehold and there was a “mob” of police aiding in his death while ignoring his 3 word plea for mercy. Unlike other released videos of unarmed black men killed by police, he managed to say “I Can’t Breathe” eleven times. Usually the big black man is vilified as the aggravator (and many believed him to be, even though he never threw a punch), however, in the court of public opinion Garner’s lack of cooperation had the conviction of self-defense. The empathic key components being that he was unarmed, outnumbered and it was unclear why he was being arrested being that he had just broken up a fight – therefore he did not have to die. Any police justification of this being a life threatening situation were dismissed by their excessive take down and neglect after his body stopped moving. What we watched didn’t appear to have anything to do with resisting arrest and everything to do with resisting cardiac arrest by asphyxiation. Based on Garner’s speech, one couldn’t help but presume that there had been a long history of police harassment and it was on that day he chose to stand for his civil rights.

I know little of Eric Garner the person. Based on the information available, his profile is that of many men I know in black communities. Forgive my speculation but I picture Eric to be a stalwart block deputy; an arbitrator with the clout to resolve minor disputes in the neighborhood. Most of his recent prior arrests constitute someone who was under-employed and took advantage of tax-free opportunities that didn’t involve hard drugs or harming others. He was probably a provider who would hustle hard in order to pay for a family trip to Six Flags. Someone whom, if you’re about to go on a trip down South, chances are he might ask you to bring back a few cartons of cigarettes (which are considerably cheaper in that region). Basically, Eric Garner was a grown man guilty of venial offenses. He was in no mood to go through the costly legal kidnapping system and paid the highest price for his innocence.

Most authorities don’t realize how valuable people like Garner are in black communities. They help keep order. They are the tacit vouchers in circumstantial situations. You might get tired of seeing him but some days, you’re sure glad he’s around. Yeah, selling “loosies” is against the law – now, the same way marijuana in Colorado used to be. However, you know what will always be illegal (but rarely penalized)? Police violating a citizen’s Constitutional rights. People like Garner also become familiar with which officers practice unlawful methods of arrest such as strip searches and planting weapons and contraband; and those cops don’t like it when you lock eyes with that knowledge. It just so happens that the officer who put Garner in a chokehold also has a record of misconduct. Adding to the irony, Ramsey Orta, the person who videotaped Garner’s death was arrested and indicted for weapons possession. Orta claims he did not have a gun. Unfortunately, his arrest was not caught on camera.

Important sidebar: The New York Times recently reported multiple incidents of police officers who stop, frisk and plant guns on law-abiding citizens (who just happen to be black men). It even raised questions of whether cops have cronies call the tip hotline to collect the reward. Adding to the complex equation, The New York Post had an article about how gentrification affects jury duty and hurts defendants. Defense lawyer Julie Clark is quoted stating “I’m not sure people from the University of Vermont would believe that a police officer would [plant] a gun.’’

All in all, this tragic incident was literally, brutally honest. Garner was yet another martyr raising awareness of the pre-existing and post-traumatic stress disorder of police encounters while being black. Son, husband, father, father-figure, gentle giant and public defender whose hustle you can’t knock – Eric, you are a hero.

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I would like to give an additional honorable mention to Azealia Banks, Ramsey Orta (his wife), Terry Robinson and anyone who videotaped an incident of injustice. Solange Knowles and Eric Garner unapologetically fought for what they believed in – a necessary reminder for us to do the same.

T. Better Baldwin is an ethical lobbyist and creative mercenary who was born, raised and resides in New York City. 

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