Were Eric Garner’s civil rights violated? Will his family file a civil suit? For how long will protests continue? These are just a few of the questions that remain the day after it was announced that a grand jury decided not to indict the officer involved in Garner’s death.
Garner – a 43-year-old, black, Staten Island man and father of six – died shortly after being placed in an apparent chokehold by NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in July as a team of officers detained him for allegedly selling loose, un-taxed cigarettes.
According to The New York Law Journal, “[c]hokeholds have been limited by the NYPD in some form since at least 1985.”
The incident was caught on video by a cell phone camera and broadcast nationally, fueling claims of police brutality and unfair treatment of black men by law enforcement. In the video, Garner can be heard saying “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!” Garner’s death was ruled a homicide by the New York City Medical Examiner. Then, on Wednesday, the Richmond County district attorney announced that Pantaleo would not face criminal charges relating to the incident.
From New York City to Capitol Hill and beyond, reaction to the grand jury’s decision was swift and severe, coming just over a week after another white police officer, Darren Wilson, escaped indictment in the August shooting death of unarmed teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Attorney General Eric Holder promised to launch a federal civil rights investigation into Garner’s case – which will be led by Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, the woman Obama nominated to succeed Holder as attorney general – and President Obama reiterated his pledge to personally oversee a national effort to improve the relationship between police and communities of color.
Peaceful protests erupted on the streets of New York City, Washington, D.C., Ferguson, Missouri and other major cities across America on Wednesday, with participants chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot” in honor of Michael Brown and “We can’t breathe” for Garner. Eighty-three arrests were made in New York City overnight, police officials confirmed Thursday. More protests are expected Thursday, and organizers are encouraging protesters to use the hashtags #ThisStopsToday and #JusticeForEricGarner across social media platforms.
By coincidence, on Thursday, Holder is expected to deliver an address from Cleveland as part of the Justice Department’s community trust initiative. In another case that has garnered national attention, 12-year-old Tamir Rice – who was black – was fatally shot by a white police officer there in November.
In October, Garner’s family filed a claim announcing its intention to sue the police department, the city, and several officers involved in the incident for $75 million, claiming the police acted “recklessly and negligently” in wrestling Garner to the ground and using a chokehold on him.
“I’m just tired,” Garner’s father Ben told msnbc Wednesday evening, standing by a group of dozens that gathered on the sidewalk where his son died. “But we got to keep going, keep marching – not just today but tomorrow.”