“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.”
“We are dismayed at the grand jury’s decision in this case and the message that is being sent about the value of Black lives,” said Arva Rice, president and CEO of the New York Urban League. “While our city and country had made monumental strides, there is clearly more work that needs to be done to improve police community relations and ensure justice is equally dispensed regardless of race or class.”
Both Jeffries and Meeks expressed reservations about the president’s quest to seek funds for 50,000 body cameras for law enforcement officers. They said that video footage was amply available in the Garner case, and it did not bring an indictment.
“The video is living, breathing, probable cause that a crime occurred,” Jeffries stressed.
“First Ferguson, now Staten Island. The grand jury’s failure to indict sends the clear message that Black lives don’t matter. But they do. It’s bad enough that ‘broken windows’ policing over something as harmless as selling untaxed cigarettes led to this tragic killing. It’s even worse when the officer responsible—who was caught on tape using a prohibited chokehold, no less—is not held accountable. The problem isn’t one officer, though; it’s systemic. We need real reform of discredited ‘broken windows’ policing and of the NYPD more than ever.”
Local reaction to the abysmal no-indictment came swiftly.
While the elected officials voiced their complaints about the grand jury and its decision, hundreds took the streets of Manhattan, chanting “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” Protestors marched from the Eric Garner vigil on Victory Boulevard on Staten Island down to the 120th Precinct, chanting, “I can’t breathe!” and the now obligatory “No justice! No peace!”
At his press conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio described this day as “a very painful day for all New Yorkers.”
“From Ferguson to New York City, ‘killer cops’ must suffer consequences,” said Charles Barron, state assemblyman-elect. “If this system can send a Black man to jail for killing dogs—and animal rights should be protected—then surely they should send white killer cops to jail for killing innocent Black civilians. I don’t know what good police body cameras will do, when the whole world saw Eric Garner get choked to death by an NYPD police officer on camera, and still there was no indictment.
Barron added, “New York City is a racial powder keg that is about to explode. One day there’s going to be real meaning applied to ‘No justice! No peace!’ Let’s keep the pressure on. Justice for Akai Gurley is next. Commissioner Bratton must go! He has blood on his hands!”
“Such news in 2014 is a shock to the conscience,” said former Mayor David Dinkins on the initial reports in July of the manner in which Garner was killed. “As we learn that there will be no charges against the individual responsible for placing Mr. Garner in the chokehold that resulted in his death, following the decision of no indictment of former officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo., two weeks ago, emotions are raw and families are fearful for what may lay ahead for anyone’s child when law enforcement is encountered. These rulings should reinvigorate a vital and honest discussion on race and policing in America. This is a discussion in which we must all participate. As we all process statements and decisions with which we may disagree, I have faith that New Yorkers, indeed, all Americans, will find ways to communicate and peacefully by seeking out local community partners and organizations that support constructive engagement around important issues.”
“It is absolutely unconscionable, unjust and indescribable that a grand jury decided that there wasn’t enough evidence to move forward with a trial despite an officer’s killing a man on videotape over loose cigarettes,” said Assemblyman-elect Michael Blake. “How could you not indict a person who ends another mans life through an illegal chokehold? It is simply an affront to all matters of justice that one could say to the Garner family, to the people of this city and any person who is confronted in their everyday lives that you could have your life taken, and those who did won’t even stand before a trial.
“It’s difficult to say with full sincerity to a young Black male that society sees you as equal, because this death, along with the unjust losses of the lives of Michael Brown, Akai Gurley, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis and name after countless name, makes us think that Black male lives don’t matter in the eyes of justice and in the court of law. Our criminal justice system is deeply flawed, and it is incumbent upon all of us to fix it. A clear way to right this unconscionable wrong is for the Department of Justice to immediately pursue a federal Civil Rights Act lawsuit and criminal charges and to determine if any immediate actions can be implemented here in New York on the state level.
“As a Black man, this decision brings pain to my soul. Yet again, our lives are seen as less significant where death is seemingly justified. Justice is not fairly applied in communities of color across the country, plain and simple. Time and again, this kind of injustice is seen in Staten Island, Ferguson, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and it must end! This pain and sense of no appropriate words will lead us to action and to demand immediate change.”
“The death and subsequent investigation and the decision of the grand jury not to indict officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner have echoed many concerns in the Black, Hispanic and immigrant communities as it relates to the perceptions and attitudes of law enforcement and the justice system in the state of New York,” said the organization Black Law Enforcement. “Any law enforcement officer, who has the power to arrest and use deadly force and has received comprehensive training by certified institutions of law enforcement and goes into a community and abuses the authority that they have been empowered with, is in essence, a criminal themselves.”
“This is a deeply emotional day—for the Garner Family, and all New Yorkers,” de Blasio declared. “His death was a terrible tragedy that no family should have to endure. And Eric Garner’s death put a spotlight on police-community relations and civil rights—some of most critical issues our nation faces today. Today’s outcome is one that many in our city did not want. Yet, New York City owns a proud and powerful tradition of expressing ourselves through non-violent protest. We trust that those unhappy with today’s grand jury decision will make their views known in the same peaceful, constructive way.”
“The grand jury’s failure to deliver an indictment for the officer responsible for the death of Eric Garner, which was deemed by the city’s own medical examiner to be a homicide, is tragic and unconscionable,” Assemblyman Keith Wright proclaimed. “With the entire world watching, yet another message was sent to African-American citizens that their lives are not worth a trial before a jury. Eric Garner was a citizen of this city, a father, a husband and, above all, a human being. His life was wrongly taken by the actions of another, period. Today’s decision is no different than the decision that allowed those responsible for firing forty-one shots at Amadou Diallo to go free. How much more proof will be given to our sons and daughters that the criminal justice system means justice for everyone but them?”
“The Day of Outrage is upon us,” said Omowale Clay of the December 12th Movement, “There should be no surprise at the ‘no indictment’ decision for the murder of Eric Garner. In fact, since the mass non-violent demonstration on Staten Island, things had been pretty silent, which many view as that demonstration’s intent. It should be remembered that Ferguson, Mo., little Ferguson, had gripped the minds and the attention of the world, not because of the murder of Mike Brown—this country’s police kill Black men and youth everyday, but precisely because of the 10-day sustained rebellion of the Black people of Ferguson, Mo. The family and loved ones of those killed by the police should speak their minds … exactly how they feel regarding these deaths. Do not let the police, media and ‘Negro’ politicians push you to speak ‘calm’ to an outraged community. This country knows full well that every Black community is at a boiling point … just one more police murder away from their own Ferguson.
“Ferguson has given Black people their pride back; given us our courage back; given us our dignity back,” Clay continued, “The worst thing a people can do in the face of injustice is to do nothing … In 1987, on the streets of Brooklyn, the December 12th Movement created out of struggle against white supremacy and police brutality the slogans ‘No justice! No peace!’ and ‘Whose streets? Our streets!’ … The Day of Outrage is upon us.”