AOC and the mothers of Eric Garner and Ramarley Graham discuss police reform

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Photo courtesy of the office of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

The mothers of Eric Garner and Ramarley Graham know all too well about how police target and kill Black people. The duo spoke with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Thursday about criminal justice reform.

This was AOC’s monthly town hall and it was quite emotional for the two moms. Ocasio-Cortez said although the recent repealing of 50-A was a step in the right direction, more needed to be done. She said that eliminating qualified immunity must happen and police training needed to be improved.

The congresswoman noted that for the police to blame the recent uptick in crime on the planned $1 billion budget cut to the NYPD was a cop out because those cuts have not taken place yet.

“People who hold a curling iron in a hair salon go through more hours of training than a police officer who holds a deadly weapon,” AOC said. “Crime is a problem of a diseased society, which neglects its marginalized people. Policing is not the solution to crime.”

She questioned why urban communities don’t have good schools and less liquor stores and bodegas. She added that cops should not assume that every person of color is up to no good.

Ocasio-Cortez pondered what justice and a better world really look like. She stressed that simply getting rid of officers who killed people like Breonna Taylor or George Floyd isn’t the solution, but that their superiors should also be fired.

“It’s about alleviating this notion that anyone is above the law,” Ocasio-Cortez explained.

In 2012, Wakefield resident Ramarley Graham was unarmed and killed by the police. His mom Constance Malcolm recalled the horrifying day in vivid detail.

Graham, 18, was walking home to 229th Street from a bodega on 228th as two Black undercover cops were surveilling the store. They claimed Graham came out too quickly and began following him.

As Graham saw two friends and gave them a fist bump “hello,” he adjusted his pants and the cops thought they saw a gun.

The cops arrived at his home and Officer Richard Hayes tried to kick the front door in. When he couldn’t get in he entered in the back and let the other cops in and went looking for Graham.

Graham’s grandmother heard the commotion and ran in the hallway. They then shot her grandson in front of her killing him. The cops claim Graham ran in the house, had a gun and weed and wrestled with them, all of which his mom refuted.

“The story they gave is [that] Ramarley tried flushing a bag of weed,” Malcolm said.

A screenshot of AOC in her criminal justice town hall.

But she said that it doesn’t add up. There were no fingerprints on the marijuana and undercover cops carry weed all the time to make fake buys. Additionally, if he was trying to flush anything he would have fallen in the tub and not the floor.

His grandmother asked the cops why they shot him and she was then held for seven hours at the 47th Precinct for questioning without a lawyer.

“If I have to talk about what happened to Ramarley it’s too much,” Malcolm said emotionally.

Malcolm and Gwenn Carr, Garner’s mom, was among the many advocates who championed for 50-A to be repealed. When it finally happened last month, it was like a weight was lifted off her shoulders.

“We’ve been fighting this for years,” she said. “Cuomo only signed the bill because his hands were tied. Now that we’ve repealed 50-A families won’t have to struggle.”

Carr spoke about her departed son. The police that killed her son allege he was selling loose cigarettes, when in fact Garner had just broken up a fight.

Those cops were racist, inhumane and targeted him, she said and she questioned what gave them the right choke him and not stop when he said 11 times “I can’t breathe.”

“That was one of the worst day so my life,” she recalled.

Carr was working for the MTA in Astoria and kept getting calls, but didn’t know what was wrong. When she got in the car with her husband she could not believe what she heard and blacked out.

Garner was her fist born and they did a lot together.  The morning of his death she and her son talked and he said “I love you mom.”

“I never remember knowing that would be our last conversation,” she said.

Since his death she has been at the forefront of police reform. But when she saw George Floyd beg for his life like her son, it brought back painful memories.

“The killing of George Floyd brought back the killing of my son,” she stated. “It just ripped out my heart.”

However, Carr explained communities of color have been rotting long before the murder of Floyd. While 32 percent of the US population is represented by African Americans and Hispanics, 56 percent of the people in prison are African Americans and Hispanics.

The way people of color are treated in this city, state and country needs to change, Carr stressed.

“The system failed me from the beginning” she said.

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