Still, when protests are organized to oppose the lack of respect for the lives of African-Americans, I never see him remembered as an individual. Instead, he's part of a greater whole of black people who have been mistreated under America's judicial system--fought for and represented as a part of a group in the context of the greater problems, but not seen as an ordinary man.
The societal issues that are being opposed in the protests--racism and police brutality--are prevalent and need to end. But so does the way that we view the murder of Eric Garner. He wasn't a hero. He was a victim. And we need to remember that when we protest in his name.
A quick Google search of Eric Garner leads to a number of articles about his death; the top hit is even a Wikipedia entry titled "Death of Eric Garner." Nowhere is there a profile. We're fighting for this man without knowing who he is. And that's troublesome for many reasons, the most significant one being that it dehumanizes him.
When we look at Garner as a hero, we stop seeing him as a person like us. And that's the issue: people like us--even if we're not their race or sex--are getting murdered. People living quietly. People meandering through uneventful lives. We're losing the ability to ask: could that have been me? My friend? My relative? And in doing so, we're also losing the ability to emphasize. We see Garner as untouchable, so we think instead: that won't happen to anyone I know because we're ordinary people. And we forget that Garner was an ordinary person, too.
Here's the reality of Eric Garner: He lived for forty-three years, and he had children and grandchildren. He had health problems. He was known around his neighborhood as being friendly and kind. He was also arrested more than thirty times, all for minor offenses. Garner wasn't the epitome of good, nor was he the embodiment of evil. He was a human.
American culture has a disturbing tendency to glorify historical events and re-edit them into media-friendly narratives. There have been too many World War II movies that take one of the most revolting times in the world's history and pre-package it into neatly wrapped, two-hour-long features (which conveniently feature main characters and subplots and endings--elements of fictional stories). Then there's the new trend of Navy Seal-type movies, feeding the public's hunger for more information on the War on Terrorism (even if "based on a true story" doesn't mean that it's true). And, going back to America's Western roots, who can forget the Lone Ranger franchise (and its glorification of racism and murder)?
My question is, how long will it take before we start seeing Eric Garner's murder as a way to make money rather than as an example of a prevalent problem in our society? How long will it be before we stop identifying with him and with his family? The answer will be "soon"--unless we remember him as a man, not a martyr.