Bill Clinton is the latest national figure to weigh in on a Staten Island grand jury’s controversial decision to not indict white police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the July choke hold death of unarmed black man, Eric Garner. The former president said Garner “didn’t deserve to die.”
Clinton made his first public remarks about the Dec. 3 decision in an interview with Fusion at Clinton Foundation’s recent “Future of the Americas” summit in Miami. The network will release the full interview on Tuesday night.
According to Clinton, Garner “was obviously not well, he was overweight and vulnerable [and] therefore had lung problems, heart and lung problems. He was doing something he should not have been doing. That was illegal. He was selling untaxed cigarettes on the street in small volumes, trying to make a little extra money. But he didn’t’ deserve to die because of that.” He added that while racial equality has gotten better there are still “preconceptions wired into us and we have got to get beyond them.”
The Garner case and a separate, November grand jury decision to not indict white police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. have sparked racial tensions and protests across the country.
Clinton’s remarks echoes those of his wife Hillary, who is considering running for president in 2016.
The former secretary of state said shortly after the Garner decision that Americans must grapple with the “hard truths of race and justice” in the wake of Garner and Brown’s deaths. She also lauded the Justice Department for investigating both cases and said, “I know that a lot of hearts are breaking and we are asking ourselves, ‘Aren’t these our sons? Aren’t these our brothers? Those families and those communities and our country deserve a full and fair accounting as well as whatever substantive reforms are necessary to ensure equality, justice and respect for every citizen.”
Several potential Republican presidential candidates have also made very different public remarks about the two deaths. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he would not second guess the grand jury decision in New York. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky made the argument that cigarette taxes and the politicians who voted in favor for them were partially to blame for Garner’s death. And former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has defended Wilson, insisting to NewsMax, “It’s a horrible thing that [Brown] was killed, but he could have avoided that, if he’d have behaved like something other than a thug.”