by Courtney Elder
It’s been a week since a New York grand jury decided not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in chokehold death of Eric Garner.
Garner died in July after Pantaleo and other officers of Staten Island’s 120th police precinct suspected that he was illegally selling cigarettes.
Footage of the incident captured from a cell phone went viral after Pantaleo was seen placing his arms around Garner’s neck in a disturbing manner. Not long after, a medical examiner ruled Garner’s death as a homicide as a result of a chokehold—a move banned by the New York Police Department.
As the sister to two brothers, I have come to understand my brothers’ lives entirely differently since the more-than-shocking decision that the grand jury made to not indict Pantaleo. Like I’m sure is true for many sisters, brothers are our heroes. My brothers have been my heroes for a long time, as they’ve saved me from many life-altering situations—ones I dare not tell my parents about.
My brother Chauncey, who is the oldest, teases me. He teased me when were little and he teases me now. However, if anyone else ever thought of teasing me when we were young, they would have been in for a serious tongue-lashing—as serious a tongue-lashing adolescents could think to give. Teasing each other is just how our love for one another is set up.
I remember vividly my second-oldest brother looking out for me in our neighborhood park in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, when we were growing up. He was the first one there when my time spent on the playground was not always easy and when it came to making friends. The kids on the playground knew that whenever Courtney’s brother Joshua came around, he was there to stick up for his little sister at all costs.
Fast-forward to the day of grand jury’s decision and therein lies my daunting, macabre reality.
At the edge of my full-size bed we sat, my brother on the left side toward the television. Cellphones were silenced in anticipation of the jury’s ruling. The volume was turned up so high that I was sure the upstairs neighbors could have listened if they wanted to.
I was looking at my brother and he was looking at me. The expression on my face appeared optimistic—at least that’s the look I was going for—but in my mind and heart, I did not have a clue as to what the grand jury was preparing to say.
On my Facebook page, everyone had their own idea as to what the decision would be. It seemed like everyone had their degrees in law or criminal justice that day. And then it happened. Pantaleo would not be indicted in the death of Garner.
As I positioned myself back on the bed and looked over at my brother, I saw him sadder than I had ever seen him in my entire life.
Sure, I had seen my brother upset before, crying, maybe a time or two, but I hadn’t seen him quite like this. Joshua’s face was flushed and all expression waned from his face. In his own way, he was defeated. It was in that moment that he wasn’t that same brother who came to the park ready to make sure that no one was there to tease me.
I thought more of how I could save him, how I could protect him from a systemic issue created by the police—those appointed to protect us, the community.
Just as I observed my brother and we began to engage in discussion on our various social networking accounts, his phone rang:
“[sic] Will you go walk for me? That’s going on right now, you know that, right?” said my intelligent and curious eight-year-old niece to her dad Joshua.
“Yeah. I know. I know. I know. It’s so hard to explain it,” said father to daughter.
“That’s not happening to my daddy!”
“I’m always going to be here. You know that.”
As macabre as it may seem, for some reason I’m not sure if Joshua knows if he’s “always going to be here.” And that’s why I’m faced with what could be such a daunting reality if one day the police decide to fall short of their mantra to protect and serve.
So my hopes for my brother Joshua are different. My hopes for both of my brothers are different. I no longer hope for them to be there to save me like they so very often have. I hope for them to be able to save themselves from anyone that attempts to harm them, including the police.