NEW YORK – Demonstrators took to the streets in New York City and elsewhere Wednesday night after a grand jury declined to indict a police officer in the choking death of a man selling cigarettes on a sidewalk.
The confrontation between Eric Garner – a large African-American male – and about 6 police officers was caught on video by a bystander, and some thought that would be enough evidence to at least bring an indictment. Garner said more than once ‘I can’t breathe!’ as an officer – Daniel Pantaleo – applied an illegal chokehold. Police tried to block a person taking the video, which later became evidence in the case.
A Richmond County grand jury completed its investigation into the death of Garner on July 17, 2014, after being taken into police custody for an alleged sale of untaxed cigarettes in the Tompkinsville area of Staten Island, New York. After deliberation on the evidence presented in this matter, the grand jury found on December 3 that there was no reasonable cause to vote an indictment.
District Attorney Daniel Donovan said “Clearly, this matter was of special concern in that an unarmed citizen of our County had died in police custody.” He said he would do as the grand jury directed if it brought charges.
“This is a deeply emotional day – for the Garner Family, and all New Yorkers,” Donovan said. “His death was a terrible tragedy that no family should have to endure. This is a subject that is never far from my family’s minds – or our hearts. And Eric Garner’s death put a spotlight on police-community relations and civil rights – some of most critical issues our nation faces today.”
In a statement, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday “Today’s outcome is one that many in our city did not want. Yet New York City owns a proud and powerful tradition of expressing ourselves through non-violent protest. We trust that those unhappy with today’s grand jury decision will make their views known in the same peaceful, constructive way. We all agree that demonstrations and free speech are valuable contributions to debate, and that violence and disorder are not only wrong – but hurt the critically important goals we are trying to achieve together.”
VIDEO OF INCIDENT:
Wednesday, as protestors were in the streets, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder made an announcement that a civil rights investigation would be undertaken at the federal level.
Good evening. I want to provide an update regarding the case involving Eric Garner, a Staten Island resident, who died tragically in July.
Since Mr. Garner’s death, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, the Civil Rights Division and the FBI have been monitoring the local case closely while allowing the local investigation, led by the District Attorney’s office in Staten Island, to proceed first.
Earlier today, the grand jury declined to return an indictment in this case. Now that the local investigation has concluded, I am here to announce that the Justice Department will proceed with a federal civil rights investigation into Mr. Garner’s death.
This afternoon I spoke with the widow of Eric Garner to inform her and her family of our decision to investigate potential federal civil rights violations. I have been in touch with President Obama and Mayor de Blasio regarding our decision as well.
Our prosecutors will conduct an independent, thorough, fair and expeditious investigation.
In addition to performing our own investigative work, the Department will conduct a complete review of the material gathered during the local investigation.
We have all seen the video of Mr. Garner’s arrest. His death, of course, was a tragedy. All lives must be valued. Mr. Garner’s death is one of several recent incidents across the country that have tested the sense of trust that must exist between law enforcement and the communities they are charged to serve and protect. This is not a New York issue or a Ferguson issue alone. Those who have protested peacefully across our great nation following the grand jury’s decision in Ferguson have made that clear.
As the brother of a retired police officer, I know in a personal way about the bravery of the men and women in uniform who put their lives at risk every day to protect public safety. The vast majority of our law enforcement officers perform their duties honorably and are committed to respecting their fellow citizens civil rights as they carry out their very challenging work.
It is for their sake as well that we must seek to heal the breakdown in trust we have seen. Earlier this week, I traveled to Atlanta to begin a series of interactions to begin this process – and officials around the country at every level of the Department of Justice will continue this vital ongoing work. As the Justice Department’s independent investigations into the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner proceed, I will continue these conversations as we seek to restore trust, to rebuild understanding and to foster cooperation between law enforcement and the communities they serve.
I know that substantial numbers of people in New York and across the country will be disappointed and frustrated by the outcome of the state grand jury proceeding today. I know many will plan to voice their disappointment publicly through protests. This is the right of all Americans. But as I have said before, throughout our history, the most successful movements have been those that adhered to the principles of nonviolence. I urge all those inclined to demonstrate tonight and in the days ahead to remain peaceful in their demonstrations, and not to engage in activities that deflect our attention from the very serious matters our nation must confront.