New York City

On Fifth Anniversary of Eric Garner's Death, Protesters Hit the Streets Following DOJ Decision

At a press conference Tuesday, Gwen Carr, Eric Garner's mother, said the fight isn't over

What to Know

  • Department of Justice will not file criminal or civil rights charges against the NYPD cop accused of using a deadly chokehold on Eric Garner
  • The decision comes nearly five years to the day -- and just ahead of the federal deadline for charges -- the NYC father died
  • A Staten Island grand jury declined to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo on any state criminal charges four months after Garner's death

The day after the U.S. Department of Justice said it will not file charges against the NYPD officer accused of using a deadly chokehold on Eric Garner, protesters hit the streets across New York City to continue their demand for justice.

Two protests, one at Manhattan's Foley Square and another later one at Staten Island's St. George Terminal, took place on Wednesday, the five-year anniversary of Garner's death, whose final words, "I can't breathe," became a rallying cry for the national Black Lives Matter movement.  

Much of the group from the Foley Square protest earlier in the day traveled down to Staten Island, where more than 100 participants marched to a stationhouse and faced down police while chanting "What's his name? Eric Garner."

At a press conference Tuesday after the Justice Department's decision was made public, Gwen Carr, Eric Garner's mother, said the fight isn't over. "We have been on the forefront. We have followed it up. We had to go. We had to fight. This is not a easy fight but we kept on pushing," she said.

"And make no mistake about we're going to still push," she added. "You could push back but we're pushing forward because this is not the end."

Garner’s sister Ellisha Flagg-Garner also called on Mayor de Blasio to step and and "do your job. Stop trying to be a president when you can't even be a mayor."

Civil rights prosecutors in Washington had favored filing criminal charges against Officer Daniel Pantaleo, but ultimately U.S. Attorney General Barr sided with other federal prosecutors based in Brooklyn who said evidence, including a bystander's widely viewed cellphone video, wasn't sufficient to make a case, a Justice Department official told The Associated Press.

Lawyers in the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, however, had a different view of the case and believed charges could have been pursued, according to two officials.

"Everyone agrees the incident should not have ended with Garner's death," the senior official said, but added that relevant law requires proof that the officer acted "willfully," which requires an analysis of the cop's state of mind. 

Under Supreme Court cases, that means it has to be more than a mistake or a momentary lapse of judgement -- and after watching Garner's dying video "countless times," the senior official says, "We concluded that the evidence was not convincing that the officer acted willfully." 

“We prosecute people for what they do on purpose. We would have to prove that in that struggle, a dynamic situation, that the officer decided he was then going to apply that hold, that it was wasn’t just a mistake,” the official said.

Pantaleo, meanwhile, remains a New York City police officer. He awaits a judge's verdict in his NYPD disciplinary trial, which wrapped up last month. Ultimately, though, it'll be up to NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill to determine whether to fire Pantaleo or allow him to keep his job on the force, a fact Mayor Bill de Blasio reiterated while adding that Pantaleo is entitled to due process.

The NYPD addressed the DOJ decision with a simple tweet, saying its disciplinary case was ongoing and "a determination has NOT yet been made. Today's announcement by the US Department of Justice does not affect this process." 

A city spokesperson said that decision is expected by the end of August. 

The Police Benevolent Association, meanwhile, lauded the federal decision Tuesday and said that if the NYPD disciplinary case is decided "on the facts, free of improper political influence," that Pantaleo would be fully exonerated.

"Although Mr. Garner’s death was an undeniable tragedy, Police Officer Pantaleo did not cause it," PBA President Patrick Lynch said in a statement. "Scapegoating a good and honorable officer, who was doing his job in the manner he was taught, will not heal the wounds this case has caused for our entire city."

But New York City is not the same city it was five years ago, Mayor de Blasio said in a scathing statement blasting the DOJ decision. 

"We are a different city, and we must act like a different city. Years ago, we put our faith in the federal government to act. We won't make that mistake again," the mayor said. "Moving forward, we will not wait for the federal government to commence our own disciplinary proceedings. This further reform will make sure no family ever waits years for the answers they deserve."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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