Five years after the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man whose last words “I can’t breathe” started a rallying cry, the Justice Department has decided that they will not bring federal charges against the New York City police officer allegedly responsible for strangling him to death. The announcement came exactly when the deadline on the statue of limitations ran out, and no charges were pressed on Garner’s alleged murderer, Daniel Pantaleo.
On July 17th, 2014, Garner was stopped by NYPD officers on a street corner in Staten Island for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. Garner’s friend, who was with him at the time, captured the encounter, which depicted Garner pulling his arm away from the Pantaleo and Pantaleo putting him in a chokehold and forcing him to the ground. In the video, it can be heard that Garner repeated “I can’t breathe” eleven times as officers continue to restrain him. After falling unconscious, officers left him on the sidewalk as they awaited an ambulance to arrive. He was announced dead at the hospital an hour later.
Despite the medical examiner ruling Garner’s death as a homicide and the NYPD having a specific policy prohibiting the use of a chokehold, Pantaleo was neither indicted nor pressed charges. Immediately following the announcement that Pantaleo would not be indicted in 2014, hundreds of demonstrators spilled into the streets in New York City, blocking traffic in the Lincoln Tunnel and on the Brooklyn Bridge and staging a die-in at Grand Central Station. “We All Witnessed Murder” one protester’s sign read.
Eric Garner’s death highlighted police violence and led to anti-police violence demonstrations across the country. In the wake of the decision not to indict Ferguson Police Department officer Darren Wilson in the killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown, and the decision to not indict the officer responsible for Garner’s death, protesters sought an end to excessive and lethal force by police officers. On Twitter after Garner’s death, the hashtag #CrimingWhileWhite rose to trending status as people shared personal examples of how they benefited from their white privilege in police encounters. The hashtag #AliveWhileBlack emerged in response, as people shared stories of racial profiling despite having committed no crime.
Media Resources: New York Times 07/16/19; The Daily Beast 07/16/19; Feminist Newswire 11/1//15