Eric Garner's Last Words Turned Into Performance Piece at Protest

By Jaime Prisco on Dec 11, 2014 03:06 PM EST

Amid the throng of protesters, the words “I can’t breathe” echoed through Grand Central Terminal Tuesday night, Dec. 9. The plea of Eric Garner, the black man who was recently killed by a white police officer in Staten Island, New York, was re-enacted by a group of performance artists in a rallying cry for justice.

The speaker was Chazz Giovanni, a recent graduate of the acting program at SUNY Purchase. Giovanni recited all of Garner’s last worlds, which were recorded on video before his death in July after Officer Daniel Pantaleo put him into a chokehold.

As Giovanni spoke Garner’s last words, dozens of dancers circled him, some beating on cookie tins as they chanted, "We can’t breath." Others broke into pairs to act out a simple, stylized move based on a chokehold. After each round of the monologue, the group fell to the ground, mimicking death.

“When I think of someone breathing, it’s like someone is at ease,” said Shamirrah Hardin, a high school dance teacher who led the choreography of Tuesday night’s performance. “All is well. Everything’s OK. But we can’t keep on relaxing and breathing when people are getting choked out left and right, and gunned down.”

Giovanni, who is half-black, said he had his own unbelievable moment when he was only 11. He was on his way home from a movie with his friends when two cops responding to a call accused him of snatching a woman's purse and throwing it into a nearby lot, he said. Though their search turned up nothing, he remembers police letting him go with these words: "At least you can tell your friends you were stopped.”

The case has spread like wildfire across the nation ever since a grand jury decided not the indict Pantaleo for the death of Garner. “I can’t breathe” has been echoed in interviews, social media and on the chests of NBA players.

Led by a handful of artists who spread the invitation by word of mouth, the grassroots “die-in” slotted into what organizers are calling a Week of Outrage, a series of nonviolent protests across New York City building to a super-sized demonstration Saturday, Dec. 13.

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TagsEric Garner, Perfomance Art, SUNY Purchase, Protest, I Cant Breathe, Death, NYPD

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