A New York police officer will not be charged in the choking death of Eric Garner, as a grand jury examining the July 17 actions of officer Daniel Panteleo returned its decision on Wednesday.
A lawyer for Garner’s family passed word of the decision to the Associated Press, which first reported the news. “I am actually astonished based on the evidence of the video tape, and the medical examiner, that this grand jury at this time wouldn’t indict for anything, is really just astonishing,” Jonathan Moore, the attorney, said.
“Oh my God, are you serious?” Garner’s widow, Esaw Garne, told the New York Daily News. “I’m very disappointed. You can see in the video that he (the cop) was dead wrong!”
In the July incident on Staten Island, which was caught on video by a witness, Panteleo placed Garner in a chokehold, a move prohibited under N.Y.P.D. guidelines. In the widely viewed footage, Garner can be heard telling officers that he can’t breathe. Garner had reportedly broken up a fight before being stopped by the officers. He had a history of arrests pertaining to the sale of untaxed cigarettes, and expressed his frustration at what he saw as police harassment. “It ends today,” Garner said. After succumbing to the chokehold, the 43-year-old father of six was pronounced dead after arriving at a hospital. His death was later ruled a homicide by the coroner.
“I became a police officer to help people and to protect those who can’t protect themselves,” Panteleo said in a statement released by the officer’s union. “It is never my intention to harm anyone and I feel very bad about the death of Mr. Garner. My family and I include him and his family in our prayers and I hope that they will accept my personal condolences for their loss.”
In a statement released after the verdict, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio asked that protesters “make their views known in the same peaceful, constructive way,” and invoked Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while calling for reform. “Should the federal government choose to act, we stand ready to cooperate,” he said.
“I couldn’t help but think what it would mean for me to lose [my son]Dante,” the emotional mayor said in a press conference after news of the decision broke, describing Garner as “a good man, a man who should be with us.”
“This is profoundly personal for me. I was at the White House a few days ago, and the president turned to me . . . and said Dante looked like he did when he was a teenager,” de Blasio continued, noting that he has had to “train” Dante to “take special care” when dealing with the police “who are supposed to be there to protect him.”
De Blasio added that he spoke with Attorney General Eric Holder, who assured him that federal civil-rights investigations into Garner’s death will be “expedited.” U.S. attorney Loretta Lynch, Barak Obama’s nominee to replace Holder, is handling the case.
Immediate calls for protest could be seen on Twitter, as organizers prepared to demonstrate the grand jury’s decision, which comes on the heels of the contentious grand jury decision in the case of officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri, weeks after Garner’s death. The jury in that case voted not to indict Wilson last week. Both officers are white, and the men they killed are black.
The case of officer who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice, a Cleveland resident who was holding a toy gun, is also headed to a grand jury.
N.Y.P.D. police commissioner William Bratton said that Panteleo would remain suspended even if he wasn’t charged. “The officer is currently on suspension and will remain on suspension while the department moves forward with its administrative process,” Bratton said at a press conference earlier on Wednesday. “Then of course the third avenue is the federal government looking at a civil rights violation. And then a fourth course of action is if the family decides to sue.”
New York City council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito called on the Justice Department to immediately open a probe into Garner’s death. “What makes this even more infuriating is the frequent lack of accountability, which is why I urge the U.S. Department of Justice to launch its own investigation,” Mark-Viverito said. “The use of excessive and lethal police force against people of color is a persistent problem nationwide and we must recommit ourselves to building a more just city and society where all people, regardless of color, are treated equally by law enforcement.”
As reports of the decision began to spread, de Blasio canceled a scheduled appearance at a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Rockefeller Center.
The N.Y.P.D. said it would re-train its entire police force on takedown procedures in the wake of Garner’s death. This week, de Blasio and the police department announced that officers would soon be wearing body cameras, a request that Brown’s family had made in the wake of their son’s death. In the immediate wake of the Garner incident, however, many noted that the fact that the police’s treatment of Garner was videotaped did not seem to affect the verdict.
More from de Blasio’s first statement:
These goals – of bringing police and community closer together and changing the culture of law enforcement — are why we have introduced so many reforms this year. It starts at the top with Commissioner Bratton – a strong, proven change agent. We have dramatically reduced the overuse and abuse of stop-and-frisk. We have initiated a comprehensive plan to retrain the entire NYPD to reduce the use of excessive force and to work with the community. We have changed our marijuana policy to reduce low-level arrests, and we have launched a new pilot program for body cameras for officers to improve transparency and accountability
These are the long-term reforms we are making to ensure we don’t endure tragedies like this one again in the future. But we also know that this chapter is not yet complete. The grand jury is but one part of the process. There will still be an NYPD internal investigation. And we know the US Attorney is continuing her investigation. Should the federal government choose to act, we stand ready to cooperate.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – one of our nation’s most profound thinkers on these issues – taught us something very simple: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The problem of police-community relations and civil rights is not just an issue for people of color – or young people – or people who get stopped by police. This is a fundamental issue for every American who cares about justice.