Family members and friends of Eric Garner joined the Rev. Al Sharpton last Saturday morning at the National Action Network Headquarters in Harlem to celebrate what would have been the chokehold victim’s 44th birthday.
Another event, in the form of a community party and barbecue in Staten Island that began at noon, was spearheaded by the Staten Island chapter of the National Action Network. It ended at sundown in Tompkinsville at the location where Garner was taken into police custody before he died as a result of an apparent police chokehold July 17.
“I just think of this time last year. We were sitting down at Applebee’s eating dinner for his birthday. And now this year, all I can do is talk to the sky and hope that he hears me,” said Esaw Garner, his wife, in an emotional speech Saturday morning.
Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, remembered going into labor with her firstborn Sept. 15, 1970. “This was a good pain that I was feeling at that time. But today I’m feeling another pain,” she said. “My son, he’s no longer with me, and I feel this every day. Every day I die a little more because he’s not coming back, and I know he’s not. For now on, my goal is to get justice for him. I will fight with every breath in my body to get justice for my son.”
Garner, an asthmatic father of six, died July 17 while resisting arrest after cops suspected him of selling untaxed cigarettes on Staten Island. The incident was captured on a cellphone by passerby Ramsey Orta, whose video showed NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo placing his arm around Garner’s neck in an effort to subdue him and taking him to the ground. Garner could be heard saying repeatedly to the officers, “I can’t breathe” However, they still arrested him.
In early August, the medical examiner’s office ruled Garner’s death a homicide as a result of the chokehold, a policing tactic that Police Commissioner William Bratton said is prohibited. Chokeholds are banned by the NYPD, but are not illegal according to state law. The medical examiner also said that asthma, heart disease and obesity were contributing factors to his death.
In late August, Sharpton led a march and rally on Staten Island, with thousands demanding justice for Garner and urging Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan to prosecute the officer.
Donovan has announced that he sent the case to a grand jury for review. He didn’t provide a specific start date and when it might be completed.
The grand jury will examine the actions of all police who were involved and the emergency medical services workers who were at the scene. Pantaleo and another unidentified officer were placed on modified reassignment pending the outcome of the case. Four emergency workers, who refused to give Garner medical attention at the scene, were suspended without pay pending an investigation.
Some lawmakers and civil rights activists believe Donovan will not convene a fair trial. Last month, 14 New York lawmakers called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to appoint a special prosecutor to probe Garner’s case, saying there is a “gross and deliberate failure” and “lack of progress” by Donavan to pursue a case in Garner’s death. Six New York congressional lawmakers also urged U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to launch a federal investigation.
The Staten Island chapter of the National Action Network announced that they will be conducting a series of weekly rallies and vigils until Pantaleo is arrested and charged.