“God knows I need the support,” said Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, while addressing the media at One Police Plaza in lower Manhattan on Monday, May 13.
NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo’s trial began this week with Carr hoping it ends with him being found guilty of her son’s death. A grey, dreary and rainy Monday afternoon marked the occasion. To Carr, the weather was indicative of the moment.
“These are just tears from heaven,” said Carr. “Eric is crying tears from heaven because he sees his mother and his family out here still trying to fight for justice for him…Five years, we’ve been on the front lines trying to get justice and [they] keep trying to sweep it under the rug.”
On July 17, 2014, Pantaleo and other officers were captured on video as they attempted to arrest Garner for selling untaxed cigarettes in the Tompkinsville neighborhood on Staten Island. The video showed officers using force in the arrest; none intervened to help when Garner said, “I can’t breathe.” Garner’s last words became a rallying cry for activists, and athletes wore “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts before games.
NYPD officials and officers first claimed that Garner died of a heart attack then leaked sealed records of Garner’s legal transgressions and allegedly lied on official reports.
“Five years this family’s had to endure this pain,” said National Action Network President Al Sharpton. “As I sat there next to Ms. Carr and her daughter and we had to take them out twice seeing that film. Pantaleo is not the only one on trial. The police department of New York City’s on trial.”
During Tuesday’s testimony, NYPD Inspector Richard Dee said Pantaleo was never trained to use a seatbelt hold despite the officer’s lawyer, Stuart London, stating that his client used the “NYPD approved” maneuver to take Garner down. According to Dee, the seatbelt technique wasn’t taught in the academy when Pantaleo was there in 2006 or in 2008 during his plainclothes training. It wasn’t introduced until 2011.
A medical examiner for the city, who ruled Garner’s death a homicide, said he died from chest and neck compressions and medical ailments.
London said in court that there’s no evidence that Pantaleo applied pressure to Garner’s neck.
On Wednesday, New York City Medical Examiner Dr. Floriana Persechino testified that the autopsy she conducted confirmed that the banned chokehold Pantaleo performed on Garner sparked an asthma attack, which led to him not being able to breathe.
When the autopsy photos were displayed during Persechino’s testimony, Carr left the room.
Loyda Colon, co-director of the Justice Committee, said that she had to continually console Carr during court proceedings.
“The day after Mother’s Day, Ms. Carr is being forced to sit through this trial to watch the video of Eric being choked to death by Pantaleo, repeated over and over,” said Colon. “Let’s be clear, this is only the trial for Pantaleo. They’re several other officers who lied on the stand and officers who had their knees on Eric’s face and officers who held down his head while he said ‘I can’t breathe’ and didn’t let go. These officers are testifying in this trial and they’re not being charged.”
Carr received support from the mothers Constance Malcolm, Hawa Bah, Sylvia Palmer and Sharonne Salaam. They are the mothers of Ramarley Graham, Mohammed Bah, Akai Gurley and Yusef Salaam, Black men who have been murdered or railroaded by the police. She also received the support of Iris Baez, the mother of Anthony Baez. Anthony was killed by police in the Bronx in 1994 via a chokehold.
“When they murdered my son, there was no video tape and yet they still tried to say the same thing,” said Baez. “That my son murdered himself. The same thing they said about Eric. That he murdered himself. That obesity and asthma killed Eric Garner and not the police.”
The NYPD, however, is sticking to their story. Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch said that neither Dee nor the CCRB witness provided evidence of criminal conduct. Lynch reiterated that the presiding judge said that patrol guide violations can’t be the sole basis for disciplinary action against Pantaleo.
“These CCRB prosecutors are tying themselves in knots to prove a case that the judge has already said is not enough,” said Lynch in a statement. “If you want to know whether a police officer was trained in a certain technique, you should talk to the person who actually trained him. P.O. Pantaleo’s attorneys will do just that later in the trial. But CCRB knows full well that it is wasting everyone’s time by scrounging for evidence to suggest P.O. Pantaleo committed a rulebook infraction. They know that he did not commit any crime, and that he should be cleared of all charges against him.”
But Sharpton thinks Pantaleo should’ve met his fate a long time ago.
“I think justice would’ve been prosecution,” said Sharpton. “But I think that the least he should do is lose his job then be a symbol that this is not tolerated. But he should’ve been prosecuted. He choked an unarmed man begging for his life.”
Colon didn’t spell out what result she wanted for Pantaleo, but she did spell out what she felt Pantaleo’s responsible for.
“This is murder,” Colon said.