Civil rights advocates decried the U.S. Justice Department’s announcement on Tuesday that it would not prosecute a New York police officer in the death of Eric Garner as a “gross injustice,” the victim’s family demanded that the officer be fired.
Daniel Pantaleo is accused of triggering a fatal asthma attack five years ago when he put Garner in a “chokehold,” a maneuver that’s been banned by the NYPD for more than two decades. The five-year anniversary of Garner’s death falls on Wednesday and marks the deadline by which charges would need to be filed against Pantaleo.
Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, and his daughter, Emerald Garner, spoke to the press after emerging from a meeting with prosecutors and Rev. Al Sharpton, where they learned of the DOJ’s decision.
“The DOJ has failed us,” Carr told reporters. “Five years ago my son said, ‘I can’t breathe’ 11 times. And today we can’t breathe because they have let us down…This is not an easy fight but we kept on pushing. And make no mistake about it, we’re going to still push.”
“We’re asking the commissioner to make the right decision” regarding Pantaleo’s dismissal, Carr added.
“Pantaleo needs to be fired!” Emerald said. “He needs to be fired. There is no waiting, there is no nothing….Five years later and there’s still no justice. So no, there won’t be no calm. No, there won’t be no peace. No justice, no peace.”
“They came in that room and gave their condolences,” Emerald added in her statement to the press, noting that her sister Erica also died in 2017 while fighting for justice for their father. “Five years later, I don’t want no condolences. I want my father and I want my sister.”
“The tragic killing of Eric Garner was recorded and widely shared across the country and is a stark example of the dangers faced by African Americans at the hands of the very police who are sworn to protect them,” said Kristen Clarke, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, in a statement. “The Justice Department’s decision not to prosecute Daniel Pantaleo sends a dangerous message to law enforcement that they can kill with impunity.”
Pantaleo has continued to serve in the NYPD since Garner’s death, on desk duty. His pay rose to $120,000 per year in 2016 and he has continued to accrue pension benefits.
Police Commissioner James O’Neill has said he won’t determine whether to fire Pantaleo until an administrative judge hands down her verdict in the officer’s disciplinary hearing.
On social media, progressive groups, including Indivisible and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, called the DOJ’s decision an injustice and joined the Garner family’s call for Pantaleo to be dismissed.
According to ABC News, Attorney General William Barr made the final decision not to prosecute Pantaleo.
Some critics denounced the Obama administration for failing to swiftly bring charges against the officer. Former Attorney General Eric Holder supported prosecuting Pantaleo at the time, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York warned that it would be difficult to prove that Garner’s rights had been violated. Under Holder’s successor, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the DOJ was working on the case when President Donald Trump was elected.
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“The Obama administration broke the hearts of the family of Eric Garner when they let this case carry over to the Trump administration,” journalist and civil rights advocate Shaun King tweeted.