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Man who filmed death of Eric Garner is getting ready to spend 4 years in prison

By Christopher Mathias, The Huffington Post

Ramsey Orta says he’ll wake up crying sometimes, and he won’t know why.

A few days will pass, and suddenly he’ll remember the dream. The one where he’s on that block in Staten Island, on that cool July day, filming a police officer putting his friend Eric Garner into a chokehold.

Only this time, Orta feels an arm wrap around his own neck, squeezing tighter and tighter. Until he can’t breathe.

“And then it just goes all black,” Orta said.

There are other dreams too: the one where he’s running from the cops, and the one where somebody in a hoodie walks up to him in a park and shoots him.

“Pretty much all my dreams are messed up,” he said. “I don’t remember the last time I had a nice dream.”

On July 17, 2014, Orta lifted up his Galaxy Exhibit phone and recorded arguably one of the most infamous videos in American history. Two years later, he’s a long way from Staten Island, on a couch next to an air conditioner in a cramped Las Vegas apartment.

Earlier this summer, a judge in New York granted Orta permission to stay in Nevada, where his wife lives, until October. Then, he’ll have to fly back to New York to start a four-year prison sentence, the result of a plea deal on gun and drug charges stemming back to 2014.

He and his wife ― activist Jessica Hollie, aka Bella Eiko ― who Orta married in December after a whirlwind romance, are working some stuff out, he says, so he’s crashing at her friend’s place in a low-rise, sun-drenched apartment building near Vegas’ Chinatown.

Occasionally he steps into the 110-degree heat to smoke a Newport, the same brand of cigarette Garner had been accused of hawking in Staten Island before his death at the hands of police. At 24, Orta is remarkably skinny (just 115 pounds, according to arrest records), and has sharp, defined cheekbones.

“Vegas is more quiet, I ain’t looking over my shoulder,” he said. “It’s hot as hell, though. I pretty much stay in the house or wherever there’s A/C.”

But he said it’s better than being in New York. There, he’s always “on point,” even paranoid, watching the door to his apartment and looking out the window to see if anybody’s after him.

“When I’m outside, shit, everybody looks at me, and I’m pretty sure everybody knows who I am,” he said. “I get the stares everywhere I go, especially on the train.”

The video that changed his life forever ― which showed the world the death of his friend, thrust him into a life of activism, made his criminal record tabloid fodder, inspired new laws, and which he says made him a target for retaliation by police ― is on a tiny USB drive in the corner of the apartment.

It shows a New York City police officer putting Garner, a 43-year-old black man, into a prohibited chokehold during an arrest for selling untaxed “loosie” cigarettes. Garner falls to the ground and cops pile on top of him. He repeatedly cries out, “I can’t breathe,” before his body goes limp.

The New York Daily News posted the video online, and within a day, it was everywhere. Protests swept the country. “I can’t breathe” turned into a rallying cry of an ascendant Black Lives Matter movement. And the name Eric Garner came to signify a criminal justice system that targeted black and Latino Americans.

Orta says he watches the video daily, usually when it’s embedded in articles written about him. He doesn’t regret lifting up his phone that day and pressing record.


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