In another display of America’s backward legal system, Ramsey Orta – the man who filmed the death of Eric Garner – was sentenced to four years in prison this Monday.
According to Gothamist, he was sentenced because of weapon and drug-related charges. Supporters of the activist, however, maintain that the charges are ‘bogus’ and are an effect of a biased, corrupt justice system. They say he is a victim of police retaliation and have also expressed concern about his well-being in jail while he serves his sentence.
After Justice Stephen Rooney read out Orta’s sentence in Staten Island Supreme Court, protesters chanted “No justice no peace! F—ck these racist police!”.
Orta’s aunt told the press:
We’re feeling really upset. I would tell the police, don’t touch him. Hands off Ramsey. Leave him alone in jail.
The 25-year-old activist who filmed police putting Garner in a chokehold before his death told his attorneys that filming the African American’s death put a target on his back.
Last week, before his sentence was decided, Orta told Al Jazeera:
[Hours after] Eric died, at 4am in the morning, there was a spotlight shining through my window. I looked out the window and there was a cop [police] car outside. They parked outside my house and stopped people coming in and out of my house. That was going on until the day they ruled it [Garner’s case] a homicide. I’ve been arrested and let out many times. And now I am convicted of only two of seven cases.
In August 2014, the activist was arrested for possession of a firearm. Then in February 2015, he received a sentence for allegedly selling drugs to undercover officers. He was arrested just a few months later for allegedly selling MDMA to an undercover NYPD officer on the Lower East Side.
In February 2016, Orta was also arrested after allegedly menacing his wife Jessica Hollie (also an activist, a.k.a. Bella Eiko) with a knife and choking her during a domestic dispute. A few days later, Hollie launched an online campaign to raise bail money for Orta, similarly to what was done after he went to jail in February of 2015. She argued in her husband’s defense, saying that he has been consistently “harassed” by the NYPD since publicizing the video of Garner’s death. She also said that the February incident had been blown out of proportion. All charges have since been dropped.
In response to the alleged police harassment, Orta filed a $10 million lawsuit against the city this summer. He stated that arrests since Garner’s death have been retaliation for his documentation of police brutality.
Orta is not alone in his belief that he’s being harassed. In August, more than 40 documentarians sent a letter to the federal justice department, urging that body to investigate the harassment and “targeting” of citizen journalists. They referenced Orta, as well as Chris LeDay and Abdullah Muflahi (who filmed the death of Alton Sterling), and Diamon “Lavish” Reynolds, who captured and shared the footage of police killing her boyfriend, Philando Castile. They wrote:
Mainstream media has paid ample attention to the images captured by these citizen journalists. Largely, it has ignored the methods in which they were recorded and distributed, and the penalties for those involved.
Reportedly, Orta pleaded guilty to the charges because he is “tired of fighting”. Activists, however, will not be silent on the matter, especially if his sentence is a result of police harassment.
One of many individuals who is thankful for Orta’s sacrifice is Jewel Miller, the mother of Eric Garner’s youngest son. After Garner’s death in 2014, she told the media:
Ramsey filmed Eric’s last words, and that’s how my child will hear his voice. Ramsey Orta is a young boy. He’s just getting into adulthood. He’s just becoming a man and it’s really sad.
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Top Image Credit: DemocracyNow.org