Elected officials have begun reacting to the news that a Staten Island grand jury has voted not to indict 29-year-old NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo, who used a chokehold on Eric Garner as officers arrested him for allegedly selling untaxed cigarette outside a beauty store in Staten Island on July 17, 2014. Garner died minutes later of neck compression. He was 43 years old.
“This was a terribly disappointing outcome and is not reflective of the events that led to Eric Garner’s death,” said New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who, along with U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, is urging the U.S. Department of Justice to launch its own investigation.
“Nobody unarmed should die on a New York City street corner for suspected low-level offenses,” Gillibrand said. “I’m shocked by this grand jury decision, and will be calling on the Department of Justice to investigate.”
Congressmember Carolyn Maloney concurred. “Eric Garner’s death was a tragedy and today is a difficult day for many New Yorkers,” she said. “I believe the Justice Department should investigate this matter further. A complete accounting of the circumstances surrounding Eric Garner’s death and how a similar tragedy can be prevented in the future must also be undertaken.”
Congressmember Nydia Velazquez said that the impact of the grand jury’s decision will be felt locally. “Not only does this ruling send the wrong message to the police department – that this type of police abuse is permissible – but it sends a message to young people of color in communities like Red Hook and Sunset Park, telling them no one will protect them or their rights.”
“The lack of indictment, even with the video evidence that New Yorkers have watched in horror, is yet another example of New York City leading the nationwide revival of occupation style policing that was so prevalent in the Jim Crow South,” added Assemblymember Karim Camara.
Congressmembers Hakeem Jeffries and Yvette Clarke agreed, Jeffries noting, “Once again, our broken criminal justice system has failed to hold a police officer accountable for the unjustified killing of an unarmed African-American man. The failure to indict is a stunning miscarriage of justice, and makes clear that equal protection under the law does not exist for all Americans. The Department of Justice must immediately commence a criminal civil rights investigation.”
As for Clarke, she pointed out that the ME had declared Garner’s death to be a homicide, contending, ““The failure of the grand jury to issue an indictment in the killing of Eric Garner defies comprehension. Eric Garner was killed when a police officer applied a chokehold, a tactic derived from the martial arts, intended to suffocate the victim. The chokehold has been prohibited under police department regulations for more than 20 years.”
Congressmember Michael Grimm had a different take on the decision. “There’s no question that this grand jury had an immensely difficult task before them, but I have full faith that their judgment was fair and reasoned and I applaud D.A. [Daniel] Donovan for overseeing this case with the utmost integrity,” he said. “As we all pray for the Garner family, I hope that we can now move forward and begin to heal together as a community.”
The decision comes just over a week after a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, and like the Wilson case, puts the issue of police-community relations dramatically in the foreground.
“Eric Garner’s death put a spotlight on police-community relations and civil rights – some of most critical issues our nation faces today,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio, who discussed measures being taken to prevent future incidents.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Due to the rioting Ferguson has endured since the decision, de Blasio is urging New Yorkers to remain calm. “New York City owns a proud and powerful tradition of expressing ourselves through non-violent protest,” he stressed. “We trust that those unhappy with today’s grand jury decision will make their views known in the same peaceful, constructive way.”
City Comptroller Scott Stringer agreed. “If Eric Garner’s tragic death teaches us anything, it’s that we as Americans need to heal the frayed relationship between our police and the neighborhoods they serve—whether it’s in Ferguson, Missouri or Staten Island,” he said. “We must build a society where all people are treated fairly and equally under the law, regardless of their race. I call on all New Yorkers who wish to protest the grand jury’s decision to respect his family’s wishes and do so in a peaceful, non-violent manner.”
The Garner family has asked that any demonstrations be peaceful.