Today marks the one year anniversary of Eric Garner's untimely death at the hands of the New York Police Department. Garner's killing, which was caught on video, helped bring America's focus back to its police brutality problem and unresolved legacy of racially-charged law enforcement. And Garner's 11 pleas of "I can't breathe" became a rallying cry for those fighting against these systemic woes, serving as catalyst that helped mobilize a whole new generation of activists.
Christelle de Castro, a New York-based photographer and art director, was there when the water began to boil over and people hit the streets in protest. The images that follow were taken toward the end of last year at three different demonstrations in New York City inspired by brutality perpetrated on unarmed black men. Check out the images and read what Christelle has to say one year after it all began.
VICE: What inspired you to document these protests?
Christelle de Castro: My roots are in street photography. But seven years into working commercially, my relationship with taking pictures changed. I forgot what it was to have my camera on me everyday and document everyday things. In fact, I almost left my house for my first protest of last year without my camera. It was a last minute decision to take my gear with me. Activism is in my blood—I rallied against Bush in SF as a teenager. The difference now is that I'm a professional photographer, so I've gained a new platform for activism, which I define as honest reportage though pictures.
What did the death of Eric Garner say to you as an artist of color, and a New Yorker?
As a New Yorker, it makes me incredibly sad. As a person of color, it makes me feel frustrated and angry. As an American, I guess I mostly feel shame.
A year after Garner's death, where do you think we are with the issue of police brutality?
Let's talk about Sandra Bland, who was recently found dead in her jail cell. America was built on violence directed at the bodies of people of color, particularly enslaved African Americans. Police brutality against blacks is a continuation of this legacy. I don't believe much has changed.
How do you feel we can push the #BlackLivesMatter movement further and what responsibility do photographers and visual artists have?
I don't think visual artists have a responsibility to be activists. My work is political at times, because I'm a political person. As a person of color and given the times, it's hard not to be. For instance, 80 percent of my daily Facebook posts are about race or sexism, but those social media conversations are reflective of my lived experience as a queer woman of color and not necessarily motivated by a sense of responsibility as an artist. I bring activism into my work because it's my personal way of expression, connecting with others, and dealing.
I think Americans have a responsibility to change the history curriculum taught in schools. Our history books need to be honest, as brutal as it may be. Students are taught a light-weight flowery version of how America was "founded" that obscures colonialism and how insanely barbaric, violent, and horrific slavery truly was.
We need to be honest to our kids so we aren't raising a bunch of uninformed, racially biased, brainwashed Americans. The ignorance of white privilege operates on such opaque histories. The lack of perspectives written by, told by, and seen through the lens of people of color is one major reason why the history curriculum is so vague about the violence this country was built on. We need to give students more black, brown, and queer theorists to study from, look up to, and be empowered by. Maybe then we can all breathe.
All the following images taken by Christelle de Castro. Follow her on Instagram.