As the anniversary of Eric Garner's death approaches, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday proclaimed that he has faith in the reforms made to the New York City Police Department in the wake of the chokehold killing that shook the country's largest city and contributed to a national focus on policing communities of color.
Garner, an unarmed black man, was placed in a chokehold by a white police officer during a confrontation on a Staten Island street over loose cigarettes on July 17, 2014. A cellphone video, which was shared around the world, captured Garner saying, "I can't breathe!" 11 times as he was restrained.
"Obviously, the anniversary is on my mind," de Blasio said after an unrelated event in the Bronx. "I think it's on the mind of many New Yorkers. And I think the important thing is to stay focused on the work of reform."
De Blasio on Monday noted that the NYPD has revamped its training program and all officers are being newly taught on how to handle street confrontation. A few police precincts have begun a pilot body camera program, while Police Commissioner William Bratton is placing an emphasis on improving relations with the public at the heart of his plan to reinvent how officers patrol their beats.
"I think what's going to happen in the next few years is (that) community residents will get to know their officers personally, and vice versa, and it's going to be something very different and much better than we've seen in the past," the mayor said. "So, a lot has changed in the last year, but I'm particularly hopeful about where we're going."
Garner's death reopened an old wound for many minorities, who have felt discriminated against by police policies. It also set off a chain reaction of events that plunged de Blasio's mayoralty into crisis.
In the weeks after Garner's death, the city was swept by protests. They ignited again in December after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict the officer who placed Garner in the chokehold.
And days after the decision, a gunman who mentioned Garner on social media ambushed and killed two New York City police officers as they sat in their patrol car. The city's police unions turned on de Blasio, accusing him of fostering an anti-NYPD sentiment by allowing the protesters to occupy the city streets. Many officers turned their backs on the mayor at their slain colleagues' funerals and later embarked on a work slowdown.
An uneasy truce between de Blasio and the police unions has since emerged. City Hall officials said that de Blasio would mark the anniversary of Garner's death in some fashion but did not supply specifics.