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Published — December 19, 2014

‘I Can’t Breathe’ now a federal super PAC

New Yorker wants to honor man who died in police custody through new political committee


Eric Garner’s dying words are now the name of a federal super PAC.

The “I Can’t Breathe PAC” received the Federal Election Commission’s stamp of approval this week after New Yorker Tarik Mohamed, a visual communications strategist for Outfront Media and a volunteer for Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, filed paperwork registering the group.

New York City resident Tarik Mohamed, shown here attending President Barack Obama’s inauguration in January 2013, has formed the “I Can’t Breathe” super PAC that he says will support candidates that favor criminal justice reform. (Courtesy of Tarik Mohamed)

The super PAC is named to honor the man whose death in July while in New York City police custody — and captured on video — has sparked nationwide outrage and protests.

Mohamed said he got the idea for the super PAC, which may raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to advocate for or against political candidates, while participating in a recent “die-in” in New York City’s Grand Central Station protesting police mistreatment of minorities.

“It’s about capturing that social inertia and giving it a political voice, not just a voice in the street, but a voice in the airwaves come election time,” Mohamed told the Center for Public Integrity.

Mohamed said the super PAC will support candidates who favor criminal justice reform, including requiring special prosecutors for police brutality cases.

Who those candidates are is still an open question for Mohamed and the volunteer staff he is currently assembling.

So, too, is its funding: Anyone may set up a federal super PAC, as comedian Stephen Colbert famously demonstrated. But finding money to get off the ground is another issue, let alone securing the firepower for substantial political influence.

The FEC currently lists 916 registered super PACs, but most have little to no financial activity.

So far, the I Can’t Breathe PAC doesn’t have any money other than what Mohamed is donating to set up its website. Mohamed said he plans to use his friendships with a music manager and entertainment lawyer to set up fundraising pitches with “high-profile celebrities and athletes” who have spoken out against police brutality.

“We’re encouraging them to put their money where their mouth is,” said Mohamed, who acknowledged he does not yet have firm commitments.

Mohamed said he also hopes the super PAC will generate a music festival, conferences and ads that focus on mistrust between police and minorities.

Mohamed said he hopes to imitate the success of two of the nation’s most well-known political players.

“A part of this is really just taking a page out of the Koch brothers’ playbook,” he said of the billionaire industrialists, Charles and David. “They have been very successful in getting candidates elected through their use of super PACs, so it’s about time that us, the people, form our own super PACs.”

Read more in Money and Democracy

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