Ayanna Pressley, Elizabeth Warren Vow to Fight for Legislation Named After Eric Garner, Stephon Clark and Andrew Kearse

Massachusetts Congress members Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have promised the families of Eric Garner, Stephon Clark and Andrew Kearse they will fight to see three new pieces of legislation combating police brutality passed in their names.

The two Congress members made the vow during an online video panel on Monday regarding efforts to address police brutality and systemic racism organized by advocacy group Violence in Boston, Inc.

Garner, Clark and Kearse, all black men, died in encounters with police. George Floyd, a black man, died on May 25 after white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest uttering the same words as Garner during his final moments of life: "I can't breathe."

Floyd's death sparked nationwide protests, with demonstrators across the U.S. and around the world calling for an end to police brutality and for systemic racism in America to be addressed.

Newsweek subscription offers >

Garner was killed in July 2014 as a result of then-NYPD police officer Daniel Pantaleo putting him in a chokehold, a move banned by the NYPD, after stopping him for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes on the street.

In December 2014, a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo on criminal charges. Nearly five years later, in July 2019, the Department of Justice also declined to file charges. Pantaleo was officially fired from the NYPD in July 2019, but has sued to get his job back, while Garner's family and advocates across the country continue to call for justice.

Newsweek subscription offers >

Clark was fatally shot by police in March 2018 when officers Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet approached him in his own grandmother's driveway in Sacramento, California, while investigating allegations of a man breaking car windows in the area.

Officers chased Clark into the backyard of the property before ultimately firing 20 rounds at Clark after claiming he had pointed a gun at them. It was later found that all Clark had been carrying was a cellphone.

A year later, in March 2019, the Sacramento District Attorney's office determined that it would not be filing charges against the officers, saying their use of force was justified.

Like Garner and Floyd, Kearse also uttered the words "I can't breathe" in his final moments.

In May 2017, he died of a heart attack in the back of a police cruiser in Schenectady, New York. He was arrested for trying to flee on foot after being pulled over for driving erratically.

Police dash camera footage shows the 36-year-old repeatedly pleading with Schenectady Police Officer Mark Weekes for help because he could not breathe. Weekes ignored his pleas, as Kearse begged the officer over and over to open a window and for assistance for more than 10 minutes.

While Kearse's widow, Angelique Negroni-Kearse, was offered a major settlement in the case, Weekes was cleared of wrongdoing in the incident. This has left Negroni-Kearse her to feel that no real justice had been served.

Seeing the Andrew Kearse Act passed, she told Newsweek on Monday, might be the closest thing to justice her family will ever see.

Speaking in a phone interview, Negroni-Kearse said it was powerful to hear Pressley and Warren, who had launched a bid in the 2020 Democratic presidential race, vow to fight for legislation in her husband's name, as well as Garner's and Clark's.

"Do you know how important an impact these three laws are going to have on the world?" Negroni-Kearse said. "If Stephon, Eric and Andrew had to die in the manner that they died in order to save lives, then none of them died in vain."

Each law addresses a critical aspect of the way that the three men died, she explained.

"You have the Stephon Clark Law, which is, if anybody is running trying to flee for their life, the officer cannot shoot you in the back," she said.

Already in California, Assembly Bill 392, known as "Stephon Clark's Law," has come into effect, with the state only allowing law enforcement to use deadly force when it is "necessary," rather than accepting use of deadly force when it is "reasonable."

"Then, you have the Eric Garner Law, where you cannot have the chokehold inflicted on a civilian," Negroni-Kearse said.

"Then you have the Andrew Kearse Act that states that if you have any medical distress, which goes for Eric, George and Andrew, then they have to act," she said.

Police officers, Negroni-Kearse said, "need to be held accountable for their actions and stop getting away with murder."

In the time since her husband's death, Negroni-Kearse said she has had to watch on as Weekes continues to go on with his life, getting married and starting a new business.

"It's not fair. it's not fair to the families. it's not fair to the justice system and these officers just go about their business living life like it's nothing," she said.

"It's a slap in my face. They just live on while us survivors are still grieving and going through the trauma with no justice," she said. "It's not fair. it's not fair to the families. it's not fair to the justice system and these officers just go about their business living life like it's nothing."

As Warren thanked survivors whose family members have died in encounters with police during the video panel, Negroni-Kearse could be heard crying out: "I've been fighting for three years."

Pressley said she shared in the frustration of how long it has taken for the introduction and adoption of legislation aimed at combating police brutality and systemic racism.

"We want peace, we want justice, but I'm certainly not going to make the case for patience because justice delayed is justice denied," she said. "We have got to move with boldness and urgency."

Now that the public is once again focused on the issue of police brutality in the wake of Floyd's death, she hopes legislation combating police brutality and systemic racism, including the Andrew Kearse Act, will be pushed forward.

"Andrew's case didn't get national attention like George's or Eric's. I've been fighting from the ground up," she said.

"Do you know what that's like for me, to accomplish that and get to this point with Elizabeth and Ayanna?" she said. "It's like, wow. He's finally getting heard. He's finally getting seen for who he is and how he cried for help."

Seeing the Andrew Kearse Act passed, she said, will mean her husband "didn't die in vain. His children will have a legacy, to say, 'look, my dad has a law. Look. He's helping. He wasn't just another black man dead by the police and forgotten."

Ayanna Pressley
Democratic Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley speaks during a Get Out the Caucus Rally event in Iowa City, Iowa on February 1, 2020. KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty
Ayanna Pressley, Elizabeth Warren Vow to Fight for Legislation Named After Eric Garner, Stephon Clark and Andrew Kearse | U.S.