The man who filmed the 2014 choking death of Eric Garner at the hands of New York police was sentenced to four years in prison on gun possession and drug sales charges, arrests he and his supporters claim are in retaliation for his smartphone recording of the controversial killing.
Ramsey Orta and his family are fearful for his fate behind bars, suspecting that he will be the target of further harassment from authorities. The officer who killed Garner while arresting him on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes was acquitted by a Staten Island jury.
“We’re feeling really upset,” Orta’s aunt, Lisa Ricardo, told the New York Daily News. “I would tell the police, don’t touch him. Hands off Ramsey. Leave him alone in jail.”
Orta’s sentencing comes as Black Lives Matter activists are making deeper connections with advocates for Palestinian rights. Although the two movements are in different places and speak different languages, both are now better able to make their case against repression thanks to bystanders filming law enforcement and capturing on camera acts of sometimes deadly brutality.
The American examples are almost too many to list, but in Israel the cold-blooded killing in March of an incapacitated Palestinian man by an Israeli army medic provoked outrage from Palestinians and indignation from the Israeli right, which supported the shooter in massive demonstrations. The medic, Elor Azaria, is now facing manslaughter charges.
In Palestine and in the United States, the activism inspired by clips of raw history written with lightning transcends language and cultural barriers and lends a sense of common cause to both civil rights movements. At the same time, American law enforcement agencies are learning more and more from Israeli counterparts, taking regular trips to occupied Palestine.
In an interview with Mondoweiss in September, Orta offered his thoughts on the similarities between the civil rights struggles in Palestine and the United States.
“It’s very important to document police brutality and spread the word, and keep witnessing. That way citizens can see the similarities in repression throughout the world, and we can stand together, come together by filming the police, and we can hold them accountable,” Orta said. “We have a large, militarized NYPD, its the country’s biggest police force, they violate our rights and violently oppress us the same way police do to Palestinians in Palestine, with tear gas and rubber bullets.”
Orta also holds the U.S. responsible for the destruction of Palestinian lives, even the most vulnerable.
“Israel bombs babies and they don’t have any problem doing it, and they take our tax paying dollars to fund the bombing of the babies,” Orta said.
Orta said that American police learning from Israeli police about how to control crowds with force presents a dangerous example for U.S. officials.
“It’s a trained-to-kill type of thing in Israel that they bring back to the states. They’ll bring that to deal with peaceful protesters,” he added.
While American and Israeli law enforcement trade tips, Orta said it’s also possible for activists to exchange advice on how to record police and stay safe while doing it. He said to always make sure to keep recordings of incriminating police behavior in a second location and to have a plan in case of arrest.
“Don’t give up,” he told him Palestinian counterparts. “Keep fighting for what you believe in. Network with others to form a support team, because when you gain a larger support team and a larger network you feel safer,” Orta explained. It’s that network of supporters who he says will help him get through his prison sentence.
“I’m going to be gone for four years,” Orta added. “I know my wife and children are in good hands while I’m gone.”