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Eric Garner was a 43-year-old Staten Island man who died after being placed in a choke-hold by the officers of the New York Police Department in July 2014.
On July 17th, 2014, Eric Garner, a New York City father of six children and a 400 pound asthmatic man, was put into a choke-hold after apparently breaking up a fight outside a local storefront in Staten Island. Five New York Police Department officers surrounded the father and then forced him onto the ground, while the man continually shouted “I can’t breathe.” Eric Garner died shortly thereafter. On the following day, a video clip of the police action at the scene taken by Taisha Allen was uploaded to YouTube (shown below).
Garner suffered from numerous medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, and sleep apnea. Whether or not these factors played a role in his death is unclear. Following Garner’s death, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called the event a terrible tragedy and spoke out against widespread use of excessive force in the police force. Meanwhile, many of Garner’s associates and bystanders at the scene decried racial profiling as he had been previously targeted by the police for selling “untaxed cigarettes.” According to the NYPD departmental policy, use of the chokehold is prohibited.
In just two days, the initial video quickly went viral and garnered over 300,000 views and 1,000 comments on the hotly discussed issue of police brutality. Soon after the death, Internet forums such as 4chan and Reddit, along with websites of many online news sources and Facebook began to spread the event, resulting in more rallies in Staten Island and Harlem. A change.org petition to further punish the offending officers was also launched in the days following the event.
In the wake of Garner’s death and the subsequent public protests, Mayor de Blasio spoke out once more on July 19th, vowing to “Change the NYPD for good” He followed by saying “I watched it as a family member would watch it, and it was very sad to watch.” Some have criticized the Mayor and the NYPD for being what they see as a slap on the wrist on the police officers involved at the scene, citing much harsher measures being taken in a virtually identical case from 1994, in which NYPD officer Francis Levoti was convicted by a federal jury for placing a man who later died in a choke-hold.
On July 21st, 2014, four emergency medical technicians and paramedics who responded were placed on suspension without pay, while two NYPD officers involved in Garner’s death, Justin Damico and Daniel Pantaleo, were placed on desk duty, with the latter stripped of his service gun and badge.
Reverend Al Sharpton’s Rally
Local reverend Al Sharpton organized a rally against police brutality in honor of Eric on the following Saturday, July 19th. Eric’s family and close friends stood nearby, including his widow, Esaw Garner. Sharpton later held a vigil for Eric as well, hoping that leaders in the community will see that change needs to be made, and soon.
The day after the first video was posted to YouTube, another video detailing the aftermath of Eric’s death was uploaded. In the video, several police officers are seen searching Eric’s corpse, removing a pack of cigarettes and a cell phone before placing him on a stretcher. Nowhere in the video do any of them try to help or resuscitate Eric who appears to be unconscious.
News Media Coverage
In the days following the incident several media outlets covered the unfortunate event, including noteworthy sites such as CBS News, USA Today, Vice, Fox News, Business Insider, and ABC News, among others.
Grand Jury Hearing
In late October 2014, a county grand jury was convened in Staten Island, New York to hear evidence and deliberate whether to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer who placed Garner on chokehold on that day. On December 3rd, 2014, only a week after the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri decided to not to file any charges against the police officer who fatally shot local teenager Michael Brown, New York District Attorney Dan Donovan announced that the grand jury has cleared Officer Pantaleo of charges for using the chokehold tactic implicated in Garner’s death. That same day, demonstrators gathered for a “die-in” at Grand Central station in Manhattan, where they laid down on the ground in protest of the grand jury decision (shown below).
That evening, United States President Barack Obama addressed the grand jury decision during the Tribal Nations Conference held at the White House (shown below).
“And as I said, when I met with folks both from Ferguson and from law enforcement and clergy and civil rights activists, I said this is an issue we’ve been dealing with for too long, and its time for us to make more progress than we’ve made. And I’m not interested in talk, I’m interested in action, and I am absolutely committed as President of the United States to making sure that we have a country in which everybody believes in the core principle that we are equal under the law.”
NY Daily News – Death of dad of 6 after police put him in chokehold