Ramsay Orta, One Year After Filming Eric Garner’s Last Words

Lead Photo: Stefan Jeremiah
Stefan Jeremiah
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Just over a year after he tragically died in a police chokehold on Staten Island, Eric Garner’s final words – “I can’t breathe” – have become a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement, and for a nation grappling with racial inequality in our law enforcement system. They’re words we would have never heard if it weren’t for Ramsay Orta, the Staten Island man who filmed Garner’s murder. With one video, Orta gave our nation’s long history of police brutality a face and a name – an act of bravery that changed his life forever.

In the year since Garner’s death, Orta says he’s become a target of police harassment. Just one day after the Staten Island coroner declared Garner’s death to be a homicide, Orta was arrested on an unrelated gun charge, and has been in and out of Rikers ever since on multiple charges of selling and possessing drugs. His life has been so upended, that in a recent interview with Time, Ramsay admits that he sometimes wishes he had done things differently. “Sometimes I regret just not minding my business,” he said. “Because it just put me in a messed-up predicament.”

The Time feature heartbreakingly details how much the 23-year-old’s life – and his working-class Latino family’s – has been impacted, making him wish he had released the video anonymously.

He’s not the only witness to a fatal police encounter to have their life marred by fear in the aftermath. Feidin Santana, the Dominican immigrant who filmed Walter Scott’s murder in North Charleston, also lives in fear of police retaliation: “I used to leave the barbershop at 10, 11 o’clock at night and go safely to my house,” he said. “Now, it’s not the same. I don’t feel that I should be doing that anymore.”

These men are among the most important citizen journalists of the last year, and yet today they live fearfully, vulnerable to the same abuses they shed light on.

To learn more about where they are today, read Time‘s piece here.