Protest erupts in New York after police officer avoids charges in Eric Garner chokehold case
Several hundred people took to the streets of New York on Wednesday to protest a decision by the U.S. Department of Justice not to bring federal charges against a police officer accused in the chokehold death of an unarmed black man in 2014.
The demonstrators also directed their anger at New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has declined to fire officer Daniel Pantaleo in the five years since Eric Garner died in police custody.
De Blasio, one of more than 20 Democrats seeking the party’s nomination for president, told reporters on Wednesday that he was surprised to learn that the Justice Department would not be bringing charges and regretted delaying the start of disciplinary proceedings against Pantaleo at the department’s request.
“You can do something about it,” said Takiema McKiver, 30, from St. Albans, Queens, responding to de Blasio’s comments. “You can’t just say that you can’t do something about police brutality. You’re the mayor; this is your city.”
McKiver, who is black, said she could be the next victim of policy brutality.
De Blasio said New York City’s police commissioner would decide by August whether to punish or fire Pantaleo, who has been on desk duty since he was seen in bystanders’ cellphone videos putting Garner in a chokehold and wrestling him to the ground on July 17, 2014.
Garner is heard in videos saying “I can’t breathe!” at least 11 times shortly before he died.
The death of Garner, 43, who was initially approached by police because they suspected him of illegally selling untaxed cigarettes, touched off a nationwide furor and helped give rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.
In announcing that they would not bring charges against Pantaleo, Justice Department officials said they could not reach a conclusive determination as to whether Pantaleo willfully committed misconduct, which must be established to prove that he violated Garner’s civil rights.
“We asked for [Pantaleo] to be prosecuted. We asked him to be fired. We asked for it. Now we’re demanding he gets fired,” Garner’s daughter, Emerald, said at the demonstration.
Protesters chanted “Hey hey, ho ho, Pantaleo has got to go!” and “I can’t breathe!” as they were addressed by civic rights activists. The crowd later marched to New York Police Department headquarters in Lower Manhattan, where they laid down cardboard coffins.
Filmmaker Spike Lee mingled in the throng, accompanied by a camera operator, but declined to speak to a Reuters reporter.
Pantaleo is the latest example of a law enforcement officer in the United States who has avoided criminal liability in killings of unarmed black men in recent years.