While the nation witnessed countless protests, die-ins, and marches after the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, Garner’s widow, Esaw Snipes, was struggling to find the strength to live without her first love.
The parents of Garner, Brown, and other victims of police killings spoke frankly about police brutality and their lives since losing their loved ones during National Action Network’s annual conference on Wednesday.
Moderated by Fix My Life host Iyanla Vanzant, the “Police Brutality Panel-The Impact of Police Brutality: The Victims Speak” at the Sheraton Hotel in NYC featured Lesley McSpadden (Michael Brown), John Crawford Jr. (John Crawford III), Valerie and William Bell (Sean Bell), Gwen Carr (Eric Garner), and Samaria Rice (Tamir Rice). The parents shared stories of losing their children and the personal battles they’ve faced within themselves and the system.
With tragedies that span almost a decade, beginning with the death of Sean Bell in 2006, the parents revealed that much of the national support has helped them deal with the fact that none of the officers have faced a conviction.
Also present during the panel were Snipes and Nicole Pautre Bell, the widows of Garner and Bell, and CNN’s Soledad O’ Brien.
Vanzant’s charm helped relieve some of the tension during the panel, as she had candid conversations with the parents and encouraged the hundreds of audience members to interact with one another through hugs and greetings. Snipes appeared distraught throughout the discussion, as she talked about her life since the death of her husband.
The couple, married for over 20 years, had six children before he was choked to death by police officer Daniel Pantaleo in July of last year. It was determined by a grand jury in December that the officer would not be indicted for the case. Snipes explained to Vanzant and the audience that she’s still finding it hard to adjust without Eric.
“Sometimes I just feel so lost,” she said while being comforted by Valerie Bell and Leslie McSpadden. “It’s been nine months and I haven’t been able to shake it. I don’t mean to break down in front of all of you guys. I get so much support from strangers and I never knew that strangers can show so much love and compassion for someone that they don’t even know. I just feel so alone and my son came home from college last night and I was watching the news and they showed a small clipping of his video and I stared crying.”
She also shared a telling story about her granddaughter, Kelsey, and why it’s troubling for her to realize her granddaughter is aware of police brutality at the tender age of three.
The recent shooting death of Walter Scott came up, with an exasperated Snipes questioning if the video footage in the case will bring about a conviction for former North Charleston Police Officer Michael Thomas Slager. O’Brien remained optimistic about the case and like many others, believes this incident will be a huge turning point when it comes to police killings of African-Americans.
William Bell also shed a few tears during the panel after the family revealed that little support was given to them immediately following Sean’s death. Valerie and William informed the crowd that plans for a community center in Sean’s name folded after they didn’t get enough funding for the project. All of the parents explained that support and change has to continue long after the cameras and media coverage fade.
John Crawford Jr. opened up about citizens going to their state representatives to question legislation regarding police tactics and laws against civilians. With experience in criminal justice, the father stated that all parties involved in his son’s death, including Walmart, will have to face repercussions for the incident. John Crawford III was shot and killed by police officer Sean Williams in August of last year when he was seen playing with a toy gun in Walmart.
The National Action Network’s conference continues today and goes until April 11, with discussions on activism, the housing market, heath care, and more. The conference is open to the public. Find out more information here.
You can see more of Snipes’ heartfelt and emotional message above.