On July 17, 2014, 43-year-old Eric Garner spoke his final words, which have now become an integral part of the #BlackLivesMatter movement: “I can’t breathe.”
Now, almost a year to the day later, Garner’s family and New York City have reached a $5.9 million settlement after the filing of a wrongful-death suit following Garner’s death during an arrest by the NYPD almost exactly a year ago.
Following Garner’s death, his family had filed a notice of claim and was initially looking for $75 million from the city. Had the city not come to a decision before Friday, the family would have moved forward with the lawsuit.
The $5.9 million settlement does not include Richmond University Medical Center, who sent the first responders to the scene that day. They also came under fire following Garner’s death for not providing him with oxygen when they arrived. The family reached a private settlement with the hospital for an undisclosed amount.
In an interview following the settlement, Scott M. Stringer, the comptroller, said, “Mr. Garner’s death is a touchstone in our city’s history and in the history of the entire nation Financial compensation is certainly not everything, and it can’t bring Mr. Garner back. But it is our way of creating balance and giving a family a certain closure.”
However, it is hard to forget the painful facts of the case. None of the officers on the scene that day were charged with any crimes, including 30-year-old Daniel Pantaleo, the officer responsible for the fatal chokehold. Pantaleo has been on desk duty since the incident amid an ongoing investigation and has a police detail protecting his home at all times. While the internal investigation is now over, it is unclear what if any consequences Pantaleo and the other officers involved will face. According to Pantaleo’s lawyer, Stuart London, Pantaleo is eager to return to active duty.
Not everyone is looking forward to that day, though, particularly the family Garner left behind. His widow, Esaw Garner, believes Pantaleo deserves to be behind bars. She also believes there is a connection between the lack of action taken against Pantaleo and the subsequent surge in killings of Black men by cops including Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Freddie Gray.
“It seems like because they didn’t prosecute the officers on Staten Island, all the other officers were like, ‘Hell. We’ll get away with it. Let’s just do it again,'” Esaw said in an interview. “And they’ve done it repeatedly over and over again.”
Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, agrees: “It’s dj vu all over again,” she said. “It’s sickening, people lose their life, they’re brutalized, and it’s like the police have a license to kill.”
She explains that the problem is the lack of consequences in most of these cases: “[Cops] know basically nothing is going to happen to them. It doesn’t matter if you wear blue jeans, a blue suit or a blue uniform, if you commit a crime, you should be held accountable for that crime.”
Although a settlement has been reached, the battle is far from over for the Garner family. This weekend, they plan to rally at the United States attorney offices in Brooklyn, seeking to have files charged against the officers who were there at the time of Garner’s death.