The widow of Eric Garner on Sunday told NBC News that she believes her husband, who was killed during the summer by a New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer in an apparent chokehold, was “murdered unjustly.”
“I feel that he was murdered unjustly. I don’t even feel like this is a black and white thing, honestly,” Esaw Garner told Chuck Todd on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.”
Her husband, 43, who was black and unarmed, died on July 17 after being placed in an apparent chokehold by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo, who is white, on a street corner in Staten Island. Pantaleo was trying to arrest Garner for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. The scene, in which Garner says 11 times, “I can’t breathe,” was captured on video, and since has been widely played.
A New York grand jury on Wednesday decided not to indict Pantaleo in Garner’s death. A week earlier, a St. Louis grand jury chose not to charge criminally police officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The U.S. Department of Justice has opened civil rights investigations into both cases.
Garner’s widow said the police in their neighborhood previously identified her and her husband by name, and “harassed us.” They would say: “Hi, cigarette man” or “Hey, cigarette man’s wife.” To prevent her husband from possible harm, she urged him to ignore the officers’ words and refrain from responding to them.
Now, Garner said she fears for the lives of her two sons. She said she chose not to allow her 15-year-old son to go trick-or-treating on Halloween this year, and pleads with her 20-year-old son, who attends college in Newark, New Jersey, to call her regularly.
“I’m so afraid of what could happen to them in the street by the police. I’m afraid of the police,” she said, adding that she has since moved out of Staten Island. She told NBC’s Todd that she was hoping for her day in court to fight for justice not only for her husband, but also for her children and other young African-American men and women.
During an interview on Sunday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he and his wife long ago began advising their biracial son to obey officers’ commands, should they ever question him. In the wake of the Garner decision, de Blasio said the outcome was “profoundly personal” for him.
“There’s that fear that there could be that one moment of misunderstanding with a young man of color, and that young man may never come back. That’s what parents are so worried about,” he said on Sunday.
Unrest began in the wake of the decision in the Garner case, and continued over the weekend, mostly peacefully. Protesters consistently demand an end to racial profiling and police brutality, and the demilitarization of local law enforcement. The actions came on the heels of the St. Louis grand jury’s decision in the Brown case last month. There were also high-profile fatal police shootings recently in Cleveland, Ohio, and Phoenix, Arizona, of 12-year-old Tamir Rice and of 34-year-old Rumain Brisbon, respectively.
Garner’s family on Saturday said they were overwhelmed by the thousands of demonstrators who have been protesting in anger over the recent outcome of the case. Gwen Carr, Garner’s mother, this weekend encouraged the public to continue protesting for her deceased son.
Seventy percent of African-Americans said they think the decisions not to indict policemen in the killings of unarmed black men have decreased their confidence in the country’s legal system, according to a recent NBC News/Marist poll. Just 9% said the outcomes have increased their confidence.