New York-based artist Shirin Barghi developed a collection of drawings for her #LastWords series which captures the final statements and pleas made by Black victims who have recently died at the hands of law enforcement and White vigilantes.
When 43-year-old Eric Garner was choked to death by a former NYPD officer in 2014 his last words were caught on camera as he repeated, “I can’t breathe” before losing consciousness.
The video was viewed by thousands and his words were chanted by demonstrators across the country as a statement of solidarity with Garner and his family as well as a symbolic cry against recurring police assault on Black Americans.
Barghi learned of Garner’s death as she read an article about Michael Brown’s death which occurred nearly a month after Garner was killed.
"It drew a connection for me," Barghi said of the Garner video in an interview with Mic. "I didn't expect this project to continue, or take off the way it did. Seeing these two incidents side-by-side helped me realize this was an ongoing phenomenon in America."
Over the last year, Barghi has been developing illustrations depicting the last words spoken by Black male victims and has distributed the drawings on Twitter.
The #LastWords series has developed a life of its own, according to Barghi. She said artists and musicians have reached out asking her to create something similar for other subjects — such as the war in Yemen — and Ferguson protesters have approached her about highlighting the last words of Black women who have died in police custody.
"I really want other people to continue this work," said Barghi. "First, I'm not Black, which I realize influences my perspective. Black pain [in the U.S.] is very real. So the first thing I try to do is educate myself, build an awareness."
Barghi is originally from Iran and moved to the United States in 2011.
The police brutality incidents that have occurred since her arrival in the U.S. are all too familiar for her as she recalls in 2009 when an allegedly fraudulent election in her country sparked protests which resulted in state violence and police abuse against citizens.
"I remember the video of Neda Agha-Soltan being shot by the police," Barghi said. Agha-Soltan's death, which was captured on video in June 2009, became a symbolic rallying point for the protests.
"Her last words were something like, 'I'm burning! I'm burning!' Which to me spoke so much to that generation of Iranians," Barghi added.
The #LastWords campaign aims to humanize the Black victims forcing people to think about their own words or reactions if put in similar situations.