The demonstration last Wednesday not only marked five years since Eric Garner’s death, it came one day after the Department of Justice announced it would not pursue charges against the officer who was seen on video placing Garner in a chokehold and taking him to the ground. The decision not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo on civil rights charges reportedly came directly from Attorney General William Barr and was announced a day before the statute of limitations expired.
For many, the DOJ decision was expected, but nonetheless gravely disappointing. Heaven, a youth organizer who spoke at the rally, said, “We believe that justice for Eric Garner would only be possible if he were not murdered in the first place. The only thing close to justice now, would be the firing of Pantaleo and the other officers involved in Mr. Garner’s murder five years ago.”
The killing of unarmed black men by police officers has sparked a national movement, one for which Garner’s last words “I can’t breathe” have become a rallying cry.
In December 2014, after New York’s chief medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide and a video of the deadly encounter was widely circulated, a Staten Island grand jury found that there was not enough evidence to indict Pantaleo, Ramsey Orta, Garner’s friend and the one who shot the video, is currently in jail and has claimed that the NYPD is retaliating against him. Now, the Garner family and their many supporters are demanding Pantaleo be immediately fired and held accountable.
The tension between police and protesters was palpable. During quiet moments, the buzz of an NYPD helicopter could be heard overhead and a sea of officers in bright green vests surrounded the crowd at all times. Protesters did not shy away from directly and forcefully criticizing the NYPD. Loud chants of “How do you spell racist? NYPD” and “We can’t breathe” echoed repeatedly through the crowd.
Speakers at the protest pointed out that since Garner’s death, Pantaleo has been placed on desk duty but has continued to receive pay and pension benefits. Police commissioner James O’Neil will ultimately decide what disciplinary action Pantaleo faces,
“We want the officers involved to be held accountable. We want the mayor to hold them accountable. We will see to it, that while justice has been delayed, it is still delivered,” said Heaven.