The New York Police Department told the Department of Justice it has until the end of August to move forward with taking action in the death of Eric Garner, or else it will take matters into its own hands. Meanwhile, on the fourth anniversary of his death, Garner’s family asks why they can’t just take action now.
“[Mayor Bill] de Blasio — why September Why September” asked Gwen Carr, Garner’s mother, outside City Hall. “When you could have moved in April and May and June and now it’s July. Let’s move today. We have to get action on this case.”
The NYPD said if the Justice Department does not act by the deadline, it will begin proceedings for an internal disciplinary trial for the officer who killed Garner, Daniel Pantaleo.
Carr is not interested in grandstanding, though. She’s interested in one thing.
“We want to see this done, we want it to be done swiftly,” she said. “We don’t want politics to play a part, we just want justice.”
The NYPD said it has been waiting for the Justice Department to conclude its own investigation before proceeding with its own action.
“Based on our most recent conversations, it has become clear that a definite date by which time a final decision by the U.S. DOJ will be rendered in this matter cannot be predicted,” Lawrence Byrne, deputy commissioner for legal matters at the NYPD, wrote in a letter to the Justice Department.
“The NYPD has come to the conclusion that given the extraordinary passage of time since the incident without a final decision on the U.S. DOJ’s criminal investigation, any further delay in moving ahead with our own disciplinary proceedings can no longer be justified.”
The Justice Department said in a statement that its investigation should have had no relevance on the NYPD’s own proceedings. It also said that the letter “does not have any bearing on the decision-making timeline” for its own action.
Mayor Bill de Blasio told Errol Louis, host of “Inside City Hall,” on Monday that this was the first he heard of the Justice Department’s viewpoint.
“Because they had previously, very consistently said, over two administrations, ‘Don’t proceed.’ But if they did, in any way, shape, or form communication that, as you said it was only a few months ago,” he said.
Garner was killed in July 2014 on Staten Island for selling loose cigarettes on the sidewalk. Pantaleo put him in a chokehold, and Garner uttered his now well-known final words: “I can’t breathe.”
Several months after the tragedy, a grand jury chose not to indict Pantaleo. Ever since, Garner’s family and activist groups have been waiting to see justice.
Communities United for Police Reform released a statement in response to the NYPD letter, rejecting the notion that it signals a step in the right direction:
This letter is more political theater by the de Blasio administration and NYPD to distract from the fact that four years after Eric Garner was killed, they have failed to hold any of the multiple officers responsible for the killing and related misconduct accountable. It lays bare the lie that the NYPD’s hands were tied from disciplining officers, when the truth is that the NYPD previously fired an officer prior to a federal indictment (Francis Livoti’s killing of Anthony Baez) and the officer who killed Walter Scott in South Carolina in 2015 was fired before a federal indictment. Multiple officers used excessive force while Pantaleo used a chokehold banned by the NYPD for over 20 years, others did nothing to intervene as Garner said he couldn’t breathe 11 times.
Garner’s mother said on Sunday that she just wants someone held responsible for killing her son.
“Fire those police officers. Make them stand accountable. This is your last chance for justice,” she warned.