“He Was Very Rare and Very Beautiful and Very Bright,” Interview with Mother of Garrett Foster

Photo: Garrett Foster (2nd from right), with his mother, Sheila Foster (in middle), and family

By Michael Nolan

In the week following what would have been the 30th birthday of slain antiracist activist, Garrett Foster, marked on December 4, Tribune spoke to his mother, Sheila Foster. Garrett was an Austin protester for Black lives who was murdered last July by US Army Sergeant Daniel Perry during a march against police brutality and in solidarity with protests in Portland. Sheila spoke of her deeply-missed, kindhearted son, who defended his friends, the oppressed, and animals, and of her anger at the ruling-class media that rushes to erase him and defend a reactionary killer.

“To them [ruling-class media] he’s just a protester, and they’re trying to make him look bad and defend the guy who killed him and it makes me furious,” Foster said. “Nobody’s out there telling the story about who my son really was and they know, because I had every single media outlet contact me and I told them all the same things I told you. Garrett was hands down one of the best people I’ve ever met in my life.”

When asked about Garrett’s childhood, Foster said, “He met his best friends in second grade, from second to fifth grade, and they just stayed together like brothers, you know, they were always, always together. He kept those guys until the day he died. […] They were more like brothers than anything.”

In Plano, where Foster grew up, his friends came from many different backgrounds: “It was just like this beautiful quilt of different colors that came together and made something really beautiful. Garrett was just really inclusive, he never left anyone out.”

Foster said Garrett’s love for animals blossomed when she got her five-year-old son a pet iguana: “I cannot count the amount of animals that that boy ended up having. […] He was always coming home with things he caught in the creek. Frogs, lizards, wanted to give them a home, wanted to make sure they were fed. Just that kind of kid.” She laughed as she recounted how one day in school, the teacher had left the room and the kids were going wild, and her son spoke up loudly for the hamster that had not yet been fed.

Garrett Foster and Whitney Mitchell (second from right on top and bottom) with friends

Her son’s devotion to his fiancee, Whitney Mitchell, was remarkable: “He met Whitney when he was 17, fell in love, got engaged. She had that tragic thing happen where she lost all of her limbs a month after they got engaged.”

Foster had already enlisted into the military and had to leave just six months after Mitchell contracted an illness that ultimately resulted in the amputation of her arms and legs. Their plan was for her to go with him but the base did not have handicap-accessible living accommodations. Foster said, “Kinda tore both of them up, and he was miserable.”

After an honorable discharge, Foster told Tribune, her son and Mitchell “started living a really good life together,” taking up hobbies, traveling frequently, and going to music festivals. Foster devoted himself to being Mitchell’s full-time caretaker: “Just an incredible, selfless person. He loved that girl so much,” Sheila said.

When the country erupted in the May Uprisings sparked by George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police, Garrett and Whitney were an inseparable unit on the streets of Austin, Garrett pushing Whitney’s wheelchair in nightly marches against racist police brutality. They had been taking part in actions for nearly 50 days straight prior to the night of July 25, 2020, when Perry gunned Foster down.

On Garrett’s commitment to antiracist struggle, Foster said, “I know exactly why [Garrett] was out there. Austin police had recently killed Mike Ramos and … later, Minneapolis police killed George Floyd. Both non-white men who were unarmed and not a threat, and nobody was held accountable for those deaths. […] [Garrett] was very aware that systemic racism still exists and he was highly against police brutality and he had seen way too much of it. That’s why he was out there—it’s not going to happen on his watch.”

“And I am furious with the media because they keep trying to blame [Garrett] for his own death, and they’re acting like the guy who killed him is some hero.” Angry that police didn’t press charges against Perry the night he killed Garrett, Foster said, “[Perry] shot someone dead in the street and they just let him go. I don’t understand.”

Foster says that the second holiday season without her son is incredibly difficult. For the first year, Foster says, she was in shock, “but now it’s finally sunk in that he’s gone, and it’s absolutely brutal. I just miss him. And I’m like sad all the time. It just never goes away.”

Foster knows her son was a remarkable individual: “Garrett, seriously, he just had something about him that most people don’t have. He was very rare and very beautiful and very bright.”

Since his death, activists have held actions and tributes for Foster, honoring him as a servant of the people and defender of Black lives. Sheila said that she hopes that people recognize Foster’s sacrifice by continuing to struggle for a better world: “Everyone [keeps] telling me that if Garrett hadn’t have been there that it could have been them. And … I appreciate the fact that they see him as a hero but part of me just wants to say, ‘What are you doing with that gift?’ If he truly saved your life, then live like he did. Honor him with your time that you have left.”

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