NO JUSTICE: Staten Island grand jury refuses to indict in Eric Garner case

Herb Boyd | 12/4/2014, 3:49 p.m.
“How can anyone in the community have faith in the system now?” asked Vincent Warren, Center for Constitutional Rights executive ...
Screenshot of killing of Eric Garner Ramsey Orta

“How can anyone in the community have faith in the system now?” asked Vincent Warren, Center for Constitutional Rights executive director.

No charges will be brought against white officer Daniel Pantaleo, who brought Eric Garner, 43, a Black father of two children, down in a chokehold that led to his death on Staten Island last July. Like the decision from Ferguson Wednesday afternoon, the grand jury decided not to indict the officer, and already the outrage is palpable.

“A Richmond County grand jury has completed its investigation into the tragic death of Eric Garner on July 17, 2014, after being taken into police custody for an alleged sale of untaxed cigarettes in the Thompkinsville area of Staten Island,” said Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan. “After deliberation on the evidence presented in the matter, the grand jury found that there was no reasonable cause to vote an indictment.”

Further, Donovan related, the investigation of the death, which was ruled a homicide by the New York medical examiner, involved more than 38 interviews, including 22 civilian witnesses “who reported to have seen some part of the interaction between Eric Garner and members of the NYPD.”

Not only have those witnesses seen portions of what happened but also have countless other people across the country who have watched a video of the incident in which Garner was taken down from behind in a chokehold, his body pressed to the sidewalk by several officers who paid no attention to his cry that he couldn’t breathe.

“I am actually astonished based on the evidence of the video tape, and the medical examiner, that this grand jury at this time wouldn’t indict for anything,” said attorney Jonathan Moore, who has been representing the Garner family. He said his clients would be addressing the decision later.

President Barack Obama, during a speech to the Tribal Nations, spoke extemporaneously about the grand jury’s decision. “This is an American problem,” he said. “When anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law, that’s a problem.”

During a press conference on Capitol Hill, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, along with Reps. Joseph Crowley, Jarrold Nadler and Eliot Engle, underscored the problem the president cited.

None of the representatives was as emotional and distraught as Rep. Nydia Velasquez, who, fighting back tears, declared, “I am horrified! How could you sit there as a juror, watch that video and issue no indictment?” She offered a challenge to everyone in the country to start a conversation to get at the root causes of the problem between the police and communities of color.

“I do hope that the Department of Justice gives the American public an opportunity to take this cancer and cut it out once and for all,” said Rep. Charles Rangel.

Equally vehement about the decision was Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn, who was mainly responsible for convening the press conference that included Reps. Jose Serrano, Gregory Meeks and Yvette Clarke.

“This is a miscarriage of justice,” Jeffries repeated. “I am the father of two African-American boys, and I don’t know what to say to them about what’s happening in this country right now.”