It’s been seven years since the 2014 police killing of Eric Garner, an unarmed Black man who was placed in a chokehold by former NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo. Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, has continued on her journey for justice as she tries to hold more people accountable for her son’s death.
This week, New York State Supreme Court Justice Erika M. Edwards heard arguments for why New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and other top city officials should be made to testify in the judicial inquiry into Garner’s killing. Carr and others brought the petition in 2019 to investigate the officials’ violations and neglect of duties, their failure to conduct thorough investigations and discipline all NYPD officers responsible for misconduct, and the related cover-up.
On July 17, 2014, Garner was allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes in Staten Island when NYPD officers approached him. When officers attempted to arrest Garner, Pantaleo placed him in a chokehold while officers wrestled him down as Garner said, “I can’t breathe” 11 times. Garner died at a hospital an hour later.
HIs death was ruled a homicide; however, a Richmond County grand jury didn’t indict Pantaleo. The U.S. Justice Department also declined to bring federal criminal charges against him. Panteleo was terminated by the NYPD in a departmental hearing in 2019. Garner’s family received a $5.9 million settlement from the city.
The petition for the judicial inquiry was filed on behalf of Carr; Ellisha Flagg-Garner, Garner’s sister; Constance Malcolm, mother of Ramarley Graham; Loyda Colon of Justice Committee; Joo-Hyun Kang of Communities United for Police Reform; Monifa Bandele of Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and others.
The city moved to dismiss the lawsuit; however, Justice Joan A. Madden issued a decision last September, allowing the inquiry to move forward.
Edwards is issuing an order on Friday regarding limited discovery in the case, and might also rule on which witnesses may testify as part of the inquiry. Petitioners are calling for high-level officials, including de Blasio, NYPD commissioners, and other top city officials to take the stand as part of the case. The inquiry is scheduled to begin Oct. 25.
Carr recently commemorated her son’s life and death this past weekend on Staten Island. She was joined by the Rev. Al Sharpton, the National Action Network, elected officials and supporters.
She said they drove down to the site on Bay Street, where Garner was choked to death by police in Tompkinsville, and gathered in the park across the street. Afterwards, she said, she went to dinner and then onto the cemetery to lay flowers on her son’s grave. She said his death continues to be hard all the time.
“It’s bittersweet,” Carr said about the judicial inquiry against the city.
Carr thought that the equally high profile case against former Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin, which wrapped sentencing for the murder of George Floyd in June, was “speedy” in comparison to Garner’s case because of the worldwide support for her son.
“Because of Eric Garner, that set the stage for the George Floyd trial with Chauvin because the people were so aware of what happened to my son,” said Carr. “So when George Floyd was murdered the stage was already set. The world had already seen how cruel that people can be to us, how cruel America is. It was just another uprising, but in that uprising they did take action where they didn’t with my son.”
She said the type of accountability in Floyd’s death is why she continues to fight. She said that she did not think it was justified that the police and the city chose to shut the door on the situation after Pantaleo was fired years after the fact.
Carr said that because Judge Edwards hasn’t officially called for the mayor and former police commissioner as witnesses in the upcoming trial, it’s still “up in the air” as to which “top” officials will be testifying in October.
“Too little too late. I’m just hoping to get accountability and transparency out of it,” said Carr.
Alvin Bragg, who was recently elected the Democratic candidate for Manhattan district attorney and is the co-director of New York Law School’s Racial Justice Project, is co-counsel for the petitioners. He said that the inquiry is a step toward transparency in Garner’s case.
“Knowing what the mayor did not do in terms of discipline here is instructive [and] the public deserves to know,” Bragg said. “It could lead to discipline and could shape what happens next. We need to be looking to shrink our system and have our police focused on things that are strictly public safety issues. We need to have this inquiry to shed much needed light for the family and the public on this instance.”
Speaking at a daily press briefing this week, de Blasio didn’t go into any detail about the possibility of being brought in to testify. The mayor said the city has done a lot to change things when it comes to law enforcement since Garner’s killing.
“I’m really looking forward to us being able to move forward, learn the powerful lessons and act on them,” said de Blasio. “I think we did, particularly with the retraining of the entire police force in de-escalation efforts. There’s always more to do, but we’re very, very committed to constantly making change and reform in policing. That’s where my focus is going to be.”
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