Garner’s Last Words, ‘I Can’t Breathe’, Became National Outcry Against Policy Brutality
By Hazel Trice Edney
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – Daniel Pantaleo, the New York City cop who held Eric Garner in an illegal choke hold as he pleaded, “I can’t breathe”, was finally fired and stripped of his pension benefits this week – five years after Garner’s plea became a protest chant and rallying cry for thousands against police misconduct, profiling and brutality across the nation.
“As Mr. Garner balanced himself on the sidewalk on his hands and knees, Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado found that Officer Pantaleo ‘consciously disregarded the substantial and unjustifiable risks of a maneuver explicitly prohibited by the department.’ She found that during the struggle, Officer Pantaleo ‘had the opportunity to readjust his grip from a prohibited chokehold to a less-lethal alternative,’ but did not make use of that opportunity,” Commissioner James O’Neill said at a press conference on Monday.
He continued, “From the start of this process, I was determined to carry out my responsibility as Police Commissioner unaffected by public opinions demanding one outcome over another. I examined the totality of the circumstances and relied on the facts. And I stand before you today confident that I have reached the correct decision…In this case, the unintended consequence of Mr. Garner’s death must have a consequence of its own. Therefore, I agree with the Deputy Commissioner of Trials’ legal findings and recommendation. It is clear that Daniel Pantaleo can no longer effectively serve as a New York City police officer.”
They were the long awaited words of activists across the country as well as Garner’s family, which includes five children and Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, who has become a familiar face as she fought for justice for her son who was 43.
In response to O’Neill’s announcement, Carr told reporters she is not finished. She says there are other New York officers who were present but did nothing to prevent her son’s death who should also be fired. The viral video of the killing shows several other officers at the scene.
“We have other officers that we have to go after. You have heard the names. We know the wrongdoing that they have done,” Carr said. “So I would like the press to put it out there, show the pictures, say the names, do the roll call because they all need to lose their jobs.”
“But I’m still out here, I’m out here for the long run. You come out here against me, I’m out here,” she said. “And you cannot scare me away. Yeah Pantaleo, you may have lost your job, but I lost a son.”
Garner said the words 11 times, “I can’t breathe”, before collapsing on the sidewalk in Staton Island July 17, 2014. Pantaleo and other officers had approached him for selling loose cigarettes on the street.
After the police press conference, activist Al Sharpton, president/CEO of the New York-based National Action Network, spoke alongside Garner’s family, saying the firing is to be commended, but it is “nothing to celebrate because Pantaleo will go home a terminated man but this family had to go to a funeral.”
Sharpton says he will continue to press for a law banning chokeholds instead of there being just a departmental policy against them.
Monday’s announcement comes nearly two weeks after Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado, who oversaw Pantaleo’s departmental trial last May and June, recommended that Pantaleo be fired, in part, because she said he was “untruthful” during his interviews with investigators about Garner’s death. She wrote in a report obtained by the New York Times on Sunday that Pantaleo’s denials that he used a choke hold were “implausible and self-serving”.
The report also said that Pantaleo’s “use of a chokehold fell so far short of objective reasonableness that this tribunal found it to be reckless — a gross deviation from the standard of conduct established for a New York City police officer.”
Medical experts testified that the pressure place on Garner’s neck by Pantaleo “caused internal hemorrhaging in Mr. Garner’s neck and was a significant factor in triggering the acute asthma attack which contributed to his death,” Maldonado wrote.
Garner’s daughter, Emerald Snipes, also at the press conference, vowed not to stop fighting for justice – not only concerning her father – but concerning what has become an epidemic of high-profiled police injustices again Black people around the nation.
“It took five years for the officer to be fired,” Snipes said. “I will do everything in my power to never see another Eric Garner.”
Pantaleo’s lawyers say they will appeal the firing decision, perhaps keeping the case alive for more years. Regardless, O’Neill is hoping for a peaceful outcome after the long wait.
“Today is a day of reckoning but can also be a day of reconciliation,” he said. “We must move forward together as one city, determined to secure safety for all – safety for all New Yorkers and safety for every police officer working daily to protect all of us.”