Five years ago, Eric Garner’s last words, “I can’t breathe” became a rallying cry against police brutality for the Black Lives Matter movement. Today, Daniel Pantaleo, the officer responsible for placing Garner in a chokehold that played a role in killing Garner, has been fired.
Earlier this month, police administrative judge Rosemarie Maldonado found Pantaleo guilty of violating a department ban on chokeholds and recommended the NYPD dismiss him. He was placed on paid administrative leave. Others called on New York City mayor Bill de Blasio to exert his power to get Pantaleo fired. However, the only person with the authority to terminate Pantaleo’s job was Police Commissioner James O’Neill, who had previously remained silent on what decision he was going to make, but who announced he dismissed Pantaleo on Aug. 19.
“The unintended consequence of Mr. Garner’s death must have a consequence of its own,” Mr. O’Neill said. “Therefore I agree with the deputy commissioner of trial’s legal findings and recommendations. It is clear that Daniel Pantaleo can no longer effectively serve as a New York City police officer.”
Maldonado had further condemned Pantaleo in the 46-page opinion the New York Times acquired, calling his testimony “untruthful.” Internal affairs investigators asked Pantaleo to define a chokehold, and then asked him if he performed the move on Garner in 2014. He said he did not, despite the video of the incident depicting him performing the maneuver he had just described. Additionally, autopsy results revealed Garner experienced fresh hemorrhaging in his neck muscles, which suggested a chokehold was, indeed, to blame for his death.
However, Maldonado said she did not believe it was Pantaleo’s intention to strangle Garner, so she acquitted him of strangulation. Regardless, in her opinion, Maldonado called Pantaleo’s explanation “implausible” and “self-serving.”
When Maldonado announced her recommendation that Pantaleo lose his job, Garner’s family spoke out vowing to keep fighting until they achieved justice. In a statement she released, Garner’s mother Gwen Carr said the recommendation had offered her family “some relief,” but that the recommendation was “long overdue.”
On Twitter, @BlackstarFlower, the former political director to the late Erica Garner who runs her account, called into question whether Pantaleo’s firing really addressed the systemic issue of police brutality against Black men. Erica Garner died due to medical issues in 2017 after spending the three years following her father’s death advocating against police brutality.
Is this really worth celebrating? Is this really a victory? What laws have changed? Where has justice been served? How is this process going to be different in the future? It won't… Thinking of Erica today.
— officialERICA GARNER (@es_snipes) August 19, 2019
In July, Attorney General William Barr dropped charges against Pantaleo for the killing.
At a press conference at Police Headquarters, O’Neill said he may have made the same mistake if he were in Pantaleo’s position, but said it was reckless for Pantaleo to not have released his grip on Garner after they were on the ground.
In the video onlookers recorded, Garner gasped “I can’t breathe” 11 times before he died.
The New York Times reports Garner’s family pointed out there were at lease 11 other police officials who were somehow involved in the incident who should also be held accountable. As of now, the only officer to face discipline is Sgt. Kizzy Adonis, who was the first supervisor to arrive on the scene.
On Twitter, the New York City Police Benevolent Association (PBA) mourned the decision to fire Pantaleo, with the president Patrick J. Lynch calling those who urged for Pantaleo’s firing “anti-police extremists.”
Pantaleo’s lawyer, Stuart London, is expected to challenge the decision in court, the New York Times reports, claiming Pantaleo had been used as a scapegoat for general anger against the police.