“Brother Eric Garner no longer breathes courtesy of banned NYPD chokehold. Rest in power,” said filmmaker Spike Lee on Instagram. As he hosted a 25th anniversary showing of his film, “Do the Right Thing,” at Restoration Plaza, Lee presented Alicia Flagg-Leith, sister of Eric Garner, with a huge tarp poster of her brother, with “I can’t breath” written on the bottom.
He spoke of the uncanny parallels between the police killing of the character Radio Raheem in his Bed-Stuy-filmed movie and the chokehold death of Brooklynite Garner on Staten Island.
Flagg-Leith said of her brother, “He just didn’t deserve to get his life taken like that.” In a message to Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, she said, “You need to evaluate these people. You don’t need training how to tell them not to choke someone. Even a kid knows when to stop putting their hands around somebody’s neck. People go through stuff every day, so maybe evaluate them once a month, because once every two years is not enough.”
To Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who put her brother in the fatal chokehold, she would say, “Whatever problems you had, it was the wrong way to get it out, whatever you were going through. Go talk to someone, because that was the wrong way to outlet your problems by taking someone’s life. Someone lost their life, and then you stood there and watched them die like a dog in the street.”
Brooklyn Councilwoman Inez Barron did not mince words, saying, “When it was announced that Bratton would become the commissioner of police, I was stunned at the incongruity. While a candidate, de Blasio had made the practice of ‘stop-and-frisk’ a major issue, yet he was unexplainably bringing the very architect of that policy to head the Police Department. The unspoken message was that New York City would maintain the status quo.”
Barron is currently dealing with another video-recorded NYPD chokehold case, this time involving a cop grappling with a seven-months pregnant woman who was imploring him to not make her lose her baby. She continued, “There is a systemic practice within the NYPD that has deadly consequences for Black and Latino people, with the police perpetrators receiving little or no consequences, even when found guilty. How else can you explain that within days of the viral display of the deadly chokehold of Mr. Garner, that at least two new victims were placed in chokeholds by police, who knew they were being videotaped. Their depraved indifference was fueled by the understanding that they could easily bear the consequences, which in the past meant nothing more than a loss of vacation days. Bratton brings a history that has allowed for this culture to exist. It is unacceptable, and Bratton must go.”
Mayor for just seven months, de Blasio delayed for a day but decided to go on his nine-day vacation to Italy. In that time, two other video-recorded incidents of alleged excessive force by police occurred. “You don’t leave in the middle of a crisis,” said Barron. “He should have stayed.”
Video captured the following incidents:
• Garner losing consciousness after being placed in a chokehold on Staten Island July17.
• Jahmil El-Cuffee apparently being stomped on the head by Officer Joel Edouard in Bed-Stuy July 26.
• Rosan Miller, seven months pregnant, being placed in a chokehold in East New York July 26.
• Ronald Johns apparently twice being put in a chokehold at the 125th Street and Lexington Avenue subway station in Harlem by Officer Colin McGuire for allegedly jumping a turnstile July 14.
De Blasio travelled to Italy July 19.
“We have gone from Giuliani time to Bratton time. Mayor de Blasio and all the Black leaders that welcomed Bratton back to town should repent for literally making a deadly mistake,” charged irate former Council Member Charles Barron. “When Bratton was here under Giuliani, Anthony Baez, whose football accidentally hit a police car, died in a chokehold. Anthony Rosario and his cousin were shot in the back by Bratton police while lying on the floor. Little 13-year-old Nicholas Heyward, playing on the stairwell, was killed by Bratton’s police. And now, under his ‘broken windows’ theory on crime, a gentle man, Eric Garner, was choked to death, and he wasn’t even selling loose cigarettes.
“An elderly Asian man was beaten for jaywalking. A young Black man was put in a chokehold for jumping the turnstile. In my East New York, a seven-month pregnant woman was assaulted and put in a chokehold by police. Bratton must go, and all those who don’t join this call will bear responsibility for the blood of innocent Black and Brown people who will become victims of Bratton’s ‘broken windows’ racist police crime theory.”
Bob Gangi, of the Police Reform Organizing Project, determined that the death of Garner “has returned the problem of abusive policing to the mainstream policymaking and media arena and has led to increased pressure on de Blasio/Bratton to reorient the city’s approach to law enforcement away from ‘broken windows’ policing to a more collaborative model. Perversely ironic, of course, that it took the death of, by all accounts, a good man to bring about this potentially constructive outcome.”
“The cops should be prosecuted in this as a hate crime!” shouted a man attending Garner’s funeral last week at Bethel Baptist Church, as the Rev. Al Sharpton spoke.
While de Blasio and Bratton said that there would be more training for officers, Sharpton asked how many “I can’t breathes” does an officer need before his humanity kicks in. Garner said it 11 times before he lost consciousness.
There were several families present whose children had been killed by NYPD cops, including the wife of Muhammad Bah and Iris Baez, the mother of Anthony Baez. Kadiatou Diallo, mother of slain Amadou Diallo, told the AmNews, “It is very sad. When I saw the video, this man wasn’t doing anything wrong, but they were harassing him. When he said he couldn’t breathe, they should have been sensitive to that and give him CPR or called for help. Since Amadou in 1999, I have been advocating for police and community relations and police sensitivity training. I call on Mayor Bill de Blasio and the new commissioner, Bill Bratton, to step up and work with organizations such as the Amadou Diallo Foundation and NAN and other organizations to crystalize this into a national debate, so that we can prevent this from happening again. Because this is a cycle that we see every two years. I hope and pray that I will not be attending funerals like this again.”
Francelot Graham, father of cop-slain teen Ramarley, told the AmNews, “An innocent life is gone. [I would tell the commissioner] you got your chance, now you need to do something about what is going on.” Still waiting for any form of justice in the 2012 police-shooting death of his son, Graham added, “We need no gimmicks, no backroom deals. We need these cops to be charged and brought to justice. It’s out of the city’s hands, and we are hoping the Justice Department will take it and charge Richard Hess for violating my son’s civil rights. They haven’t decided yet. We are just hoping.”
Staten Islander and Garner friend Roy Wright told the AmNews, “I was there. Somebody got involved in a fight over an 11-year-old girl. Police seen the fight, but when they saw Eric trying to break it up, the cops ran past the fight and went to him. These are the officers who constantly harass him for selling cigarettes, but he didn’t have anything on him.”
That’s when the officer, identified as Daniel Pantaleo, “snuck behind him and put him in a chokehold, and when he went down, he kept saying, ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,’ and the officer in the 99 shirt put his knee in his neck and held his face to the ground, and by that time he was gone.”
A heated Wright continued, “Everybody wants to go to war, but the family is saying just keep it peaceful and wait and see what the justice system is going to do, but I know they aren’t going to do nothing.”
Flagg-Leith told the AmNews, “He was a great father, a great brother, a great son. He took care of his family.” Of the support New York City has given her brother, Flagg-Leith said, “I am very overwhelmed with the support and the love we have been getting, and it is also helping my mother to cope. It’s good that his death won’t be in vain, but we have a long way to go.”
Asked if she had faith in the system, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice graduate noted, “I have faith in the people who are trying to help. I can’t really say I have faith in the system, but I have faith in our backup.” Flagg-Leith also revealed that the family had a second autopsy conducted.
Monday, Sharpton took the Garner family to see the federal authorities about looking into the possibility of civil rights charges. Present at meetings with the federal officials and the Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan was the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, who told the AmNews, “I would like the feds to take over at some point, as in the case of Abner Louima.
“If the state should lead off, and even if the culprits are found not guilty, the feds can still step in and get a conviction on the violation of civil rights, as in the case of Officer Francis Livoti, who killed Anthony Baez, and going to the feds first would seem to save a lot of time and resources, and may get a stiffer sentence than handling the case on a rebound, or after the state has failed. Officer [Francis] Livoti received only seven years. If you remember, Officer [Justin] Volpe in the Louima Case got 30 years, even though Louima was brutally treated but his life was not taken.”
At a press conference Monday, de Blasio reiterated, “But for extraordinary circumstances, the chokehold is not acceptable. So we, in each and every instance, owe it to all involved for there to be a full investigation.”
Questioned about the videos at the same press conference, Bratton said, “What you see is interference on the part of onlookers, who should not be interfering. There is a dual obligation here, for the police to police constitutionally, lawfully, as safely as possible. But the public also has an obligation to submit to arrest when an officer has announced that he intends to arrest.”
“People are not going to comply to an unlawful arrest,” countered Charles Barron.
Asked about Garner, the mayor said, “Right now we have the Staten Island district attorney and the internal affairs bureau investigating. If the federal government decides to get involved, we will absolutely cooperate.”
As for the video of Miller, the mayor replied, “Chokeholds [are] not acceptable under any normal circumstances, but I don’t want to rush to judgment.”