NEW YORK: The family of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died after being placed in a chokehold by a police officer in July, has been receiving media relations support from the National Action Network.
Jacky Johnson, communications manager for the National Action Network, a nonprofit civil rights organization, told PRWeek that Garner’s family is not being assisted by a PR firm.
She added that Jonathan Moore, the family’s lawyer, is also helping the family with messaging because of the legal implications involved.
Moore did not return PRWeek’s calls or emails seeking comment.
Hours after Garner died, his widow Esaw Snipes contacted National Action Network for support, explained Johnson.
"We got involved and [Garner’s family] has been at our rallies every Saturday since," said Johnson, who added that the network does not work with an external PR firm.
Media relations for the network’s rallies, held in a show of solidarity with Garner’s family, are handled by Johnson, who mainly sends out media advisories for the events. The rallies are also broadcast on the radio.
Last Wednesday, after a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict the police officer who placed the chokehold on Garner, the Justice Department promised to investigate the incident.
In response, the National Action Network’s president and founder Rev. Al Sharpton called for a national march to take place in Washington on December 13 to press for changes in the justice system.
"The march is bringing awareness on a larger scale of the common issue between all of these families," Johnson said.
Comedian Keenan Thompson opened Saturday Night Live this week playing the part of Sharpton. In response to the Garner grand jury decision, his character noted, "For the first time in my life, everyone agrees with me."
Over the weekend, protests in Berkeley, California in response to the decision turned violent. However, demonstrations elsewhere across the country have been largely peaceful. A handful of NFL players also voiced their displeasure on the issue by wearing warm-up t-shirts protesting on Sunday, and carolers in New York City changed the lyrics to well-known Christmas songs to share their stance against the verdict.
Garner was initially approached in July by police on suspicion of selling single cigarettes from packs without tax stamps. After telling the officers to stop "harassing" him, one officer, Daniel Pantaleo, placed him in a chokehold. While lying face down on the sidewalk surrounded by four police officers, Garner repeated the phrase "I can't breathe" 11 times. One hour later, Garner was pronounced dead at the hospital, with city medical examiners concluding that he was killed by neck compression from the chokehold.
The entire encounter was captured on cell phone video by a friend of Garner’s, which was then posted on YouTube and quickly went viral.
The decision on Garner’s case follows another grand jury decision from the end of November, which ruled that Darren Wilson, the officer who shot unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August, will not face trial.