NEW YORK (AP) — Eric Garner’s mother, speaking Wednesday on the five-year anniversary of his chokehold death, urged the New York City police commissioner to fire the officer involved.
“We’ve been failed by every other source,” Gwen Carr said on CBS. “He should be fired. At least that would give me closure.”
Speaking later in a radio interview, Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “Everyone gets due process. By state law that is the police commissioner’s decision.”
Carr and de Blasio spoke on the day after the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would not prosecute the officer who choked Garner.
Carr said that when federal prosecutors summoned her family to disclose their findings, “We thought we were going to get some positive news.”
“There is no justice for Eric,” she added. “How do you forgive? … As a Christian you’re supposed to forgive.”
Federal prosecutors said Tuesday that they won’t bring civil rights charges against Daniel Pantaleo, the white officer involved in the 2014 death of Garner, a black man who refused to be handcuffed after being accused of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.
His dying words — “I can’t breathe” — became a national rallying cry against police brutality.
The decision to end the investigation was made by Attorney General William Barr and was announced just as the statute of limitations was set to expire.
Garner’s family was incensed by the decision, the latest from a Justice Department under President Donald Trump that has scaled back the use of consent decrees aimed at improving local police departments that were found to have violated civil rights.
De Blasio said on radio station Hot 97, “We thought the Justice Department was going to be the arbiter.” The mayor, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, added, “We now know that we can no longer depend on the federal government at all.”
Police Commissioner James O’Neill is expected to decide Pantaleo’s fate by Aug. 31 after receiving a report from the administrative judge overseeing his departmental hearing. Potential punishment ranges from loss of vacation days to termination.
Chokeholds are banned under police policy. Pantaleo maintained he used a legal takedown maneuver called the “seat belt.”
Pantaleo’s lawyer, Stuart London, said Tuesday that the officer “is gratified that the Justice Department took the time to carefully review the actual evidence in this case rather than the lies and inaccuracies which followed this case from its inception.”
Richard Donoghue, the U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn, said Tuesday that while Garner’s death was tragic, there was insufficient evidence to prove that Pantaleo or any other officers involved in the confrontation on a Staten Island sidewalk had willfully violated his civil rights.
Pantaleo initially tried to use two approved restraint tactics on Garner, much larger at 6-foot-2 and about 400 pounds, but ended up wrapping his arm around Garner’s neck “in what was, in effect, a chokehold” for about seven seconds as they struggled against a glass storefront window and fell to the sidewalk, Donoghue said.
“Significantly, Officer Pantaleo was not engaged in a chokehold on Mr. Garner when he said he could not breathe, and neither Officer Pantaleo nor any other officer applied a chokehold to Mr. Garner after he first said he could not breathe,” Donoghue said.
Garner could be heard on bystander video crying out “I can’t breathe” at least 11 times before he fell unconscious. The medical examiner’s office said a chokehold contributed to Garner’s death.
In the years since Garner’s death, the NYPD has made sweeping changes on how it relates to the communities it serves, ditching a policy of putting rookie officers in higher-crime precincts in favor of a neighborhood policing model that revolves around community officers tasked with getting to know New Yorkers.