The decision by a New York grand jury to not charge officer Daniel Pantaleo in the apparent chokehold death of Eric Garner, an unarmed man, led to widespread calls Wednesday night for changes to the grand jury process.
Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, expressed shock at a press conference held in New York City. She referenced cell phone video of the incident, shot at close range, which shows Pantaleo wrapping his arm around Garner’s neck, as the man falls to the ground, while yelling, “I can’t breathe.”
“I don’t know what video they were looking at,” Carr said of the grand jury. “Evidently it wasn’t the same one that the rest of the world was looking at.”
Carr and Garner’s widow, Esaw Garner, said they were pleased with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement the the Department of Justice will be launching a civil rights probe into the case.
“A cop did wrong. Somebody that gets paid to do right, did wrong,” Esaw Garner said.
The website Colorlines wrote on Thursday morning that while Pantaleo’s actions appeared egregious, they fell in line with what some view as the New York Police Department’s “broken windows” strategy for handling low-level offenses.
“For nearly a generation, it has been NYPD's explicit policy to marshal a big response to small things, to treat the illegal distribution of 75 cent loosies with the gravity of a violent felony,” wrote Colorlines editor Kai Wright.
When a reporter asked Esaw Garner if she would accepted Pantaleo’s apology, issued through a statement after the grand jury decision was announced, she replied, “Hell no. The time for remorse would have been when my husband was yelling to breathe.”
The New York Times reports that Pantaleo’s testimony to the grand jury played a major role in their decision. The newspaper cites the officer’s lawyer, Stuart London, as its source for that information. London is a private attorney who has represented New York City officers in a slew of high-profile cases stretching back to the 1990s.
A Times recounting of notable fatal police encounters in New York City since 1990, includes some of those cases.
Several elected officials from New York City criticized the grand jury process during a Wednesday afternoon press conference.
“The fact that a grand jury could not even come up with a misdemeanor is certainly a miscarriage of justice,” said Congressman Charlie Rangel (D-NY), who also criticized Richmond County District Attorney Daniel Donovan.
“Which side was the district attorney on? Was he seeking truth and justice in terms of the homicide?” Rangel said.
The Christian Science Monitor pointed out that the grand jury for Pantaleo bore striking resemblances to the one that announced on Nov. 24 the controversial decision not to indict Ferguson, Mo., officer Darren Wilson.
“Like its Missouri counterpart, the Staten Island grand jury has been unusual, both in the duration of the proceedings and the amount of evidence presented,” the Monitor writes.
Both grand juries convened for more than two months, each were presented with voluminous testimony, including from the officers in question. The Monitor cites legal experts who say that in most grand jury cases, prosecutors present “only select evidence to simply establish ‘probable cause’ for an indictment.”
So far, unlike the St. Louis County prosecutor’s action in the Brown shooting, Staten Island officials have not released the grand jury testimony in the Garner case.
During a press conference earlier Wednesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio expressed disappointment in the decision, and called for changes to police training.
“The people demanded something different. It’s my responsibility … to achieve that on behalf of the people,” de Blasio said.
The Daily News‘ coverage of the incident has been severely critical from the moment it first released the graphic footage of Garner’s last moments. Today, the newspaper’s front page recalled the video with a stark image of the moment Pantaleo wrapped his arm around Garner’s neck, above the words, ‘I can’t breathe.’
That phrase was repeated over and over by protesters who flooded major New York City thoroughfares Wednesday night. The city’s West Side Highway, Brooklyn Bridge and Lincoln Tunnel all came to standstills, as protesters expressed frustration with police-community relations, the grand jury’s decision, and a series of high-profile fatal encounters between police and young, unarmed African-American men and boys throughout the country.
At Herald Square in New York City, protesters marched past thousands of bustling Christmas shoppers, their shouts mingled the cries of several recent controversial incidents. A poster hoisted by one person summed up the sentiment.
“Hands up, don’t shoot,” the poster said, in reference to rally cry of protesters in Ferguson, Mo. That phrase was written above the words, “Justice for Tamir,” which recalled the Nov. 22 fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice by a Cleveland police officer.
Above the phrases, the protester wrote in bold letters, “I CAN’T BREATHE.”