In a blow to all who seek to keep their communities safe from hostile police, on July 1 the Federal government announced that Officer Daniel Pantaleo will not face any federal civil rights charges for murdering Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, five years ago. The very highest Justice Department official, Attorney General William P. Barr, ordered that the case be dropped. His decision went against the advice of the Civil Rights Division, which had pushed for an indictment.
The announcement, made a day before the fifth anniversary of Garner’s killing, sparked angry protests in Staten Island and Manhattan.
Pantaleo, who is still employed by the NYPD, placed Garner in an illegal and deadly choke hold for allegedly selling loose cigarettes on a Staten Island street corner on July 17, 2014. A video of the killing, and of Garner saying 11 times that he could not breath, went viral, and was a catalyst for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Despite the video and the international revulsion it sparked, Pantaleo has evaded both administrative and legal consequences. A Staten Island grand jury previously refused to indict Pantaleo on criminal charges. Pantaleo is still employed by the NYPD. He was placed on desk duty where he has collected a 35 percent increase in overtime pay.
A complaint filed by New York City’s Civilian Review Board recently forced a NYPD investigation of Garner’s killing by Pantaleo. A decision is awaited. The worst that can happen to Pantaleo, however, is that he could be fired.
Manhattan protests targets federal and city governments
In Manhattan, more than a thousand protesters, gathered at the Federal Building, July 17, then marched around City Hall to NYPD headquarters to point out the culpability of both federal and city governments in not bringing Pantaleo to justice. They chanted “We are Eric Garner,” and “I can’t breath.”
At One Police Plaza, Gwen Carr, Eric Garner’s mother, called on New York Mayor and presidential hopeful Bill de Blasio to fire Pantaleo: “I want those officers fired, the ones who were on the scene that day when they murdered my son. So we’re calling on the de Blasio administration to fire those cops. You have the power. So, assert that power!”
The crowd responded with, “Hey hey! Ho ho! Pantaleo has got to go!”
This federal decision not to press civil rights charges is an utter slap in the face to Garner’s family, which has been organizing nonstop for the last five years to get some sort of justice. In addition to the death of Eric, the family must deal with the death of Garner’s daughter Erica, who died of a heart attack at 26. Most people feel that her early death was caused in large part by the stress and heartache she experienced after her father’s unjust killing.
Staten Island protest marches to Pantaleo home
In Staten Island, protesters gathered outside the ferry terminal chanting Eric Garner’s name and demanding Officer Pantaleo be fired and charged for murder. The demonstration then marched from the terminal to the 66th NYPD precinct. Organizers held signs with crucial facts about the case, for example: Eric Garner’s death was ruled a homicide by the coroner; Officer Pantaleo has received a raise since the murder.
The traffic came to a halt as the protesters took to the streets and marched around the North Shore community, Garner’s neighborhood. Residents, old and young, came out of their homes to show support.
The march went to Tompkinsville, the site of Eric Garner’s murder, and held a vigil. Protesters spoke about how the stress of seeking justice had affected Eric Garner’s daughter, who passed away two years ago.
Protesters continued to Officer Pantaleo’s house to remind him that the people will not forget his crime nor will they stay silent until Garner’s family receives the justice they deserve. Pantaleo’s home has had 24-hour security since the murder. The house was barricaded by police officers.
Awaiting results of police hearing
Now, seekers of justice and Eric Garner’s family await the results of the NYPD administrative hearing on Pantaleo’s role in the death of Garner. The hearing ended June 6. The presiding judge has 90 days from that date to submit a recommendation to Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill, who will make the final decision. Punishment could range from losing vacation days to being fired.
The public, however, may never know the outcome of the hearing because, under state law, police disciplinary records do not have to be made public. If the outcome of the hearing is made public, it will be due to mass pressure.
Meanwhile, Ramsay Orta, Garner’s friend and the person who filmed his death, is the only person to be incarcerated in connection with the Eric Garner case. He was framed-up by the police because he dared to bring his video to the media.
While the NYPD continues to terrorize and murder Black and Latino people with no recourse, our communities will continue to organize and fight back for justice! The people demonstrated their power on July 17 and will keep doing so until the Garner family’s demands are met.
Fire Pantaleo! Free Ramsay Orta! Justice for Eric and Erica Garner!