Five years ago, Eric Garner’s dying words “I can’t breathe” became a rallying cry for Black Lives Matter activists and those protesting police brutality against people of color. A day before the fifth anniversary of Garner’s death, Attorney General William Barr ordered that the charges against Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer who put Garner in a chokehold, be dropped.
Garner was killed July 16, 2014 when NYPD officers tried to arrest him in Staten Island on suspicion of selling cigarettes. Garner said he was tired of being harassed and that he was not selling cigarettes. When Officer Daniel Pantaleo went to arrest him, Garner pulled his hands away.
Onlookers filmed, capturing officer Daniel Pantaleo wrapping his arm around Garner’s neck before taking him down. Garner said, “I can’t breathe” repeatedly before losing consciousness and later dying at the hospital.
The federal civil rights investigation against Pantaleo continued for five years, under both the Obama and Trump presidencies. Barr’s call to not follow through with the indictment came just before the deadline for filing certain charges on the case expired, The New York Times reports.
The U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, Richard Donoghue, announced the decision Tuesday, calling Garner’s death a tragedy, but saying the prosecutors could not meet the burden of truth to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Pantaleo acted with criminal intent.
Regardless, the medical examiner on the scene attributed Garner’s death partially to the chokehold. NYPD’s policy prohibits officers from using chokeholds, but others complained about the use of the restraining method before and after Garner’s death.
The Garner family and supporters spoke out against the Justice Department’s decision. Garner’s mother Gwen Carr urged Mayor Bill de Blasio to take action to get Pantaleo fired.
“We’re not going away, so you can forget that,” Carr said in a press conference on Tuesday. “New Yorkers need to come out and flood this city tomorrow.”
The youth-organized “We Are Eric Garner” protest was set to take place in New York City on Wednesday to condemn the Justice Department decision and urge for the officers involved in the case to be fired.
Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro called the decision a “miscarriage of justice”:
Eric Garner said he couldn’t breathe 11 times.
He was put in an illegal choke hold for 7 seconds.
The DOJ civil rights division recommended charges.
This officer killed Garner, and now he will not be held accountable.
That’s a miscarriage of justice. pic.twitter.com/fDdlwW5cF8
— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) July 17, 2019
Dec. 28, 2015 – Officer who killed Tamir Rice: NO CHARGES
Jun. 16, 2017 – Officer who killed Philando Castile: ACQUITTED
Mar. 27, 2018 – Officers who killed Alton Sterling: NO CHARGES
Today, Jul. 16, 2019 – Officer who killed Eric Garner: NO CHARGES
We won’t forget you.
— Congressmember Bass (@RepKarenBass) July 17, 2019
Eric Garner was killed 5 years ago. The officer who killed him is still on the force. That is unacceptable.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) July 17, 2019