Screenshot of killing of Eric Garner (106736)
Credit: Ramsey Orta

It’s been over a month since former NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo’s termination from the NYPD over Eric Garner’s 2014 death and just over two months since U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced that Pantaleo and the officers involved would not face federal charges. The quest for justice now shifts to changing policy.

Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, sat before the House Judiciary Committee last week in Washington and began her testimony with a statement that summed up why she was there.

“Five years ago, my beloved son Eric was murdered my people who were supposed to serve and protect,” she said before the committee, chaired by New York Congressman Jerry Nadler.

Carr then recounted the experience many are sure she hates to relive, telling the detailed story about her son’s killing by NYPD officers in July 2014 in Staten Island that was caught on video. She highlighted Daniel Pantaelo putting her son in a prohibited chokehold, which led to her son’s death. The Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network looked on by her side as he has for the past five years of her journey.

“How come no one was held accountable?” she asked. “No one was held and charged for my son’s death. I will never forget that day in July. My entire life was uprooted on that July day. I felt helpless, in a dark place. Scattred in millions of pieces.”

Highlighting the recent deaths of her husband and Garner’s daughter Erica, Carr conveyed how police brutality not only took the life of her son but also caused a ripple effect of sorrow in her family.

The purpose of the House Judiciary Committee hearing was to “examine the crisis of lost trust between police departments and the communities they serve, and evaluate bipartisan solutions towards repairing and healing the relationship between civilians and law enforcement.”

Sharpton said during his testimony that police reform is not a partisan issue, but a justice issue. He’s urging Congress to make changes to stop the trend of police killing unarmed Black men with little to no consequence.

“Over the past two decades, there has been a growing and disturbing trend of mostly unarmed Black and Brown young men who have been the victims of discriminatory police practices and these encounters with law enforcement have led to their untimely deaths. These statistics should cause us all great alarm,” Sharpton said. “There are too many victims to name. But we all know their stories. We’ve read about them in the newspaper and have seem them on the nightly news: Eric Garner, Michael Brown, LaQuan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Stephon Clark and countless others.”

Executive Vice President and General Counsel for NAN Michael Hardy said preventing any more Eric Garner situations with legislation is what Carr and Sharpton are focused on now.

“One end goal is putting in place advances that will impact the entire state and nation as it revolves around police accountability,” Hardy said. “There’s no law on the books with regards to chokeholds. The Civilian Complaint Review Board documented the number of complaints when it comes to chokeholds.”

While there is no legal ramifications for police officers using chokehold on suspects, the NYPD does prohibit them. However, lawmakers are hoping they can change things with proposed legislation.

State Sen. Brian Benjamin and Assemblyman Walter Mosley recently introduced the Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold bill, which would make chokeholds by police officers illegal and punishable by up to 25 years in prison.

“This is NYPD’s policy. This is not de Blasio’s policy, the state Senate, the Assembly. This is not man’s policy. The NYPD says that a chokehold is illegal,” Benjamin said.

Mosley added that he’s confident the bill will pass because of the overwhelming support it will get from Democrats, which make up the majority in the legislature.

“We understand that we cannot take it for granted that just because we have Democrats all throughout our state Legislature that this bill is going to get passed without any form of resistance,” he said.

In an effort to ban chokeholds nationally, Brooklyn Congressman Hakeem Jeffries introduced The Eric Garner Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act of 2019. Cosponsors of the bill include Rep. Gregory Meeks, Rep. Yvette Clark and Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.

“The overwhelming majority of police officers are hardworking individuals who are on the job to protect and serve,” Jeffries said. “Yet, persistent instances of police violence have undermined the relationship between law enforcement and communities throughout America, including in New York City. The chokehold is a poster child for violent police tactics.”