No Indictment in Garner Case: The City Reacts

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Still from the video of the Eric Garner arrest.

Ramsey Orta

Still from the video of the Eric Garner arrest.

Media outlets reported Wednesday afternoon that a Staten Island grand jury had decided not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner. As the city waited for official word, reactions poured in:

Mayor Bill de Blasio
“Today’s outcome is one that many in our city did not want. Yet New York City owns a proud and powerful tradition of expressing ourselves through non-violent protest. We trust that those unhappy with today’s grand jury decision will make their views known in the same peaceful, constructive way. We all agree that demonstrations and free speech are valuable contributions to debate, and that violence and disorder are not only wrong—but hurt the critically important goals we are trying to achieve together.

“These goals—of bringing police and community closer together and changing the culture of law enforcement—are why we have introduced so many reforms this year. It starts at the top with Commissioner Bratton—a strong, proven change agent. We have dramatically reduced the overuse and abuse of stop-and-frisk. We have initiated a comprehensive plan to retrain the entire NYPD to reduce the use of excessive force and to work with the community. We have changed our marijuana policy to reduce low-level arrests, and we have launched a new pilot program for body cameras for officers to improve transparency and accountability.

“These are the long term reforms we are making to ensure we don’t endure tragedies like this one again in the future. But we also know that this chapter is not yet complete. The grand jury is but one part of the process. There will still be an NYPD internal investigation. And we know the US Attorney is continuing her investigation. Should the federal government choose to act, we stand ready to cooperate.”

PBA president Patrick J. Lynch
“While we are pleased with the Grand Jury’s decision, there are no winners here today. There was a loss of life that both a family and a police officer will always have to live with. It is clear that the officer’s intention was to do nothing more than take Mr. Garner into custody as instructed and that he used the take down technique that he learned in the academy when Mr. Garner refused. No police officer starts a shift intending to take another human being’s life and we are all saddened by this tragedy.”

Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo
“I became a police officer to help people and to protect those who can’t protect themselves. It is never my intention to harm anyone and I feel very bad about the death of Mr. Garner. My family and I include him and his family in our prayers and I hope that they will accept my personal condolences for their loss.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo
“Eric Garner was a husband, father and member of the New York family. The circumstances surrounding his death were nothing short of tragic. And while there will be people who disagree with today’s grand jury decision, it is important that we respect the legal process and rule of law. At the same time, the justice system also allows for additional investigations and reviews, and it may be appropriate for the federal government to do so in this case. And if there are improvements to be made and lessons to be learned, we at the state level are ready to act to better the system. I stand with the Garner family and urge those wishing to voice their opposition to today’s ruling to do so peacefully.”

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman
“My heart and prayers go out to the Garner family. I understand and respect the anger and frustration that many are feeling right now, but I join Mayor de Blasio and the Garner family in calling for a peaceful response from anyone who may choose to exercise their right to protest. As New Yorkers, we have a proud history of respectful and peaceful protests. Continuing that leadership is critical to moving forward together toward meaningful reform.”

Public Advocate Letitia James
“Like millions of New Yorkers, I am saddened by the grand jury’s decision not to indict in the Eric Garner case. Video footage of the incident clearly shows the banned chokehold that resulted in Mr. Garner’s death and the fact that there will be no public trial is shocking and unconscionable. We must eliminate the inherent conflict of interest when a district attorney seeks to indict members of the police department. To that end, I am calling on the governor and attorney general to create a special prosecutor in all cases involving police misconduct. Additionally, I will be requesting that the proceedings from this grand jury be made public.”

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer
“The Staten Island Grand Jury’s decision not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of Eric Garner is a decision that I disagree with, but will respect. This is yet another instance where the outcome is utterly, tragically out of proportion to the offense– in this case, for selling loose cigarettes on a commercial strip on Staten Island. As I said after the Ferguson Grand Jury’s decision, we need reforms, we need training, but mostly we as a country need to address our racial disparities and the very real and devastating actions that are the result. We need to demonstrate our outrage peacefully and constructively and move ahead to make change.”

Assemblyman Karim Camara
“The failure on Staten Island to indict, unfortunately, continues a pattern in New York City where people of color are policed differently than whites, often to the point of harassment or violence. The lack of indictment, even with the video evidence that New Yorkers have watched in horror, is yet another example of New York City leading the nationwide revival of occupation style policing that was so prevalent in the Jim Crow South. It’s a disgrace that in a great city like New York, there is such a fundamental level of distrust between the police and communities of color.From the switch from Stop and Frisk to Broken Windows to the recent police killing in the Pink Houses in Brooklyn of Akai Gurley, a totally innocent man who died only because he entered a stairwell, it’s clear that the NYPD needs to do more than simply ‘retrain’ its officers on certain procedures. While the vast majority of police officers should be commended for their courage and abide by the law, it is clear the system is broken.”

Councilman Donovan Richards
“The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. aptly stated, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ Little did Dr. King know that the threat of injustice against men of color remains a pervasive threat fifty-one years after he penned those words. It is with a heavy heart and sincere disappointment that I acknowledge once more that our judicial system has failed to administer justice on behalf of those most vulnerable. It is imperative now for the communities of color and our allies to collectively voice our concerns on excessive policing and work diligently to enact systemic change.”

Councilman Rory Lancman
“As chair of the Council’s Committee on Courts & Legal Services, I was surprised to learn of the Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to indict in the case of Eric Garner, given the video showing an officer applying a prohibited choke hold, and the medical examiner’s report identifying ‘compression of neck (choke hold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police’ as the cause of Mr. Garner’s death. … [T]this conduct would seem to support a finding of probable cause for either second degree manslaughter, which requires conscious disregard of a substantial risk, or criminally negligent homicide, which requires grossly unreasonable action resulting in death. I will be joining other New Yorkers in peacefully protesting the grand jury decision and urging the United States Department of Justice Department to closely investigate whether Mr. Garner’s civil rights were violated.”

Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) Executive Director Vincent Warren
“How can anyone in the community have faith in the system now? First Ferguson, now Staten Island. The Grand Jury’s failure to indict sends the clear message that Black lives don’t matter. But they do. It’s bad enough that broken windows policing over something as harmless as selling untaxed cigarettes led to this tragic killing; it’s even worse when the officer responsible – who was caught on tape using a prohibited choke hold, no less – is not held accountable. The problem isn’t one officer, though: it’s systemic. We need real reform of discredited broken windows policing and of the NYPD more than ever. With the court-ordered joint reform process in our class action stop-and-frisk case Floyd v. City of New York finally getting underway, we have that opportunity.”

SEIU/32BJ President Hector Figueroa
“Once again we are deeply disappointed by the failure of a grand jury to respect the basic rights of people of color and value their lives equally under the law. This latest injustice takes place closer to home in New York City where the Staten Island District Attorney failed to secure an indictment in the matter of the death of Eric Garner. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Eric Garner’s children, family and loved ones. … 32BJ SEIU calls on Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bratton to move swiftly to create greater systems of accountability in order to rebuild the bond of trust between communities of color and those sworn to defend and protect them. We cannot live in yet another tale of two cities, where some communities are safe and secure while Black New Yorkers and others fear for their lives.”

New York Working Families Party State Director Bill Lipton
“The deaths of Eric Garner and Mike Brown were tragedy. The grand jury decisions were farce. Once again, a black man is killed, and yet somehow, no crime has been committed. The pattern is maddening and familiar. Until the deaths of black mothers’ sons are as important as the deaths of white mothers’ sons, our nation has fallen short of the promises of equality and democracy for all. We must erase the stain of racial injustice. We must change not just hearts and mind, but also public policies and public officials. Today, we rededicate ourselves to fighting for an America where all lives have equal worth in the eyes of the law.”

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams
“It is fair, in the wake of these incidences, for citizens to question the performance and purpose of our grand jury system. It is easy for grand juries to deal with average Joes who rob a liquor store. The challenge is far greater when it comes to addressing police officers that may potentially be guilty of misconduct. Addressing that reality may prove to be part of the larger solution.”

NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman
“The failure of the Staten Island Grand Jury to file an indictment in the killing of Eric Garner leaves New Yorkers with an inescapable question: How will the NYPD hold the officers involved accountable for his death? And what will Commissioner Bratton do to ensure that this is the last tragedy of its kind? Unless the Police Department aggressively deals with its culture of impunity and trains officers that they must simultaneously protect both safety and individual rights, officers will continue to believe that they can act without consequence.”

Glenn E. Martin, JustLeadershipUSA
“You couldn’t find a clearer illustration of our justice system’s perversity and inconsistency. Eric Garner’s death was accurately ruled a homicide. Yet the perpetrators of that homicide won’t be held criminally liable. What it demonstrates is that the way we administer law and order legitimizes the destruction of black and poor life–depraved, morally bankrupt, and entirely legal. Radical transformation will come from the collective understanding that our two-tiered justice system rests on a single standard: the assumed criminality of our most vulnerable, and total absolution for anyone vested with the power of state to commit violence against them.”

Rep. Peter King
“While the death of Eric Garner was tragic, all New Yorkers should respect the decision of the Staten Island grand jury not to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo. During this tense time in New York, it must be noted and remembered that no organization has done more to safeguard the lives of young African Americans in New York City than the NYPD. It is time for all New Yorkers–and indeed all Americans–to acknowledge this fact.”

Rashad Robinson, Executive Director of
“Today’s refusal by a NYC grand jury to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Panatelo for choking Eric Garner to death once again highlights the inability of local prosecutors to hold officers fully accountable for senseless violence perpetrated against Black and brown folks and underscores the need for Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice to intervene and set a higher standard of policing.

“The total lack of accountability for police officers responsible for Eric Garner’s death is completely unacceptable. Just one week after Mike Brown’s killer, Officer Darren Wilson, was shielded from justice by a St. Louis prosecutor. It’s an outrage and sends the devastating message that police are above the law and that they will not be held accountable for unjustly taking the life of Black folks. Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan should hold his head in shame.”

Katrina Gamble, Director of Civic Engagement and Politics at the Center for Popular Democracy
“From the systemic devaluing of immigrant lives through deportation and detention, to militarized local policing that uses the same weaponized violence against black communities here at home that is used against communities abroad, to the criminalization and humiliation of New York City’s communities through racially discriminatory broken windows policing and religious profiling—this must stop today.”

Councilmember Jumaane Williams
“There are no words to adequately describe how I feel tonight, but I’ve been vacillating between numbness and abject anger. People keep telling us to ‘stay calm’and ‘keep the peace,’ but where is justice and accountability for this life lost? The video is there; but video or not, there is always a reason why its ok that unarmed Black and Brown people are killed by law enforcement. Dan Donovan and Staten Island’s grand jury failed, but the Mayor and Commissioner cannot fail. Department protocol was violated and another unarmed man is dead. Officer Pantaleo must be held accountable for killing Eric Garner and he must be fired immediately.”

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver
“It is essential that citizens have faith in our government to enforce the laws uniformly and without bias. This is a bedrock principle of our country and that is why I support a full re-examination of the Eric Garner case and am committed to working with Governor Cuomo, my colleagues in the Legislature, Mayor de Blasio and with law enforcement to improve the manner in which we police our streets and to restore the people’s faith in our legal system.”

Assemblyman-Elect Michael Blake
“It’s difficult to say with full sincerity to a young black male that society sees you as equal because this death along with the unjust losses of the lives of Michael Brown, Akai Gurley,Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis and name after countless name makes us think that black male lives don’t matter in the eyes of justice and in the court of law.”

Hazel Dukes, President of the NAACP New York State Conference
“We are deeply, deeply troubled by the grand jury’s decision not to indict Daniel Pantaleo for the tragic death of Eric Garner. We will continue to press, alongside others who care about justice, to have the governor appoint a special prosecutor to re-consider this matter. Additionally, we will ask the Justice Department to press forward with a federal civil rights indictment against the officer and to look at and investigate the policies and practices of the NYPD, in particular the use of choke holds.”

CAIR-NY Director of Operations Sadyia Khalique
“Along with other New Yorkers, we are dismayed that the grand jury chose to not allow an open trial for an officer who allegedly took actions that resulted in the death of an unarmed person who posed no threat to anyone. This and other similar cases nationwide point to the urgent need for reforms in police procedures and training.”

City Comptroller Scott Stringer
“If Eric Garner’s tragic death teaches us anything, it’s that we as Americans need to heal the frayed relationship between our police and the neighborhoods they serve—whether it’s in Ferguson, Missouri or Staten Island. We must build a society where all people are treated fairly and equally under the law, regardless of their race. My heart goes out to Mr. Garner’s family, and I call on all New Yorkers who wish to protest the Grand Jury’s decision to respect his family’s wishes and do so in a peaceful, non-violent manner.”

Amnesty International USA executive director Steven W. Hawkins
“The death of Eric Garner, along with those of Michael Brown, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice and others around the country demonstrate the need for a national review on the use of force by law enforcement officers. Amnesty International is urging the Department of Justice to conduct such a review and to collect and publish national data annually on the number of people killed each year by law enforcement.”

Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325
“We join in the cries of outrage, grief and anger in response to the news yesterday that the Staten Island prosecutor failed to present a case the Grand Jury could indict. But we are not surprised. As the primary public defender for New Yorkers, we witness daily the outrageous deference shown to police officers by the prosecutors’ offices in cases of fabricated evidence, brutality and disregard of our clients’ constitutional rights. We assume that, like the prosecutor in Ferguson, Missouri, the Staten Island District Attorney also presented evidence, experts and defenses to the grand jury that typically only a defense attorney would introduce at trial. We see the District Attorney, again and again in police cases across the country, failing to step out of its typical daily routine of defending police officers in the court room, even when they are the ones accused of a crime.”

2014 Green Party Gubernatorial Candidate Howie Hawkins
“Being a cop shouldn’t be a license to kill people of color. If you are going to arrest someone for allegedly selling loose cigarettes, you should be able to do so without killing him, especially when he is nonviolent. Let’s remember this was a grand jury proceeding, not an open trial where after both sides presents evidence with cross-examination a jury determines guilt or innocence. The coroner had ruled this a homicide. To say there is no basis for the possibility of a crime having been committed is incredulous, and shows that [Staten Island DA Daniel] Donovan didn’t want an indictment.”

Rep. Jose Serrano
“The grand jury’s decision today not to indict police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the case of Eric Garner is a disconcerting. Despite the indisputable visual evidence available in this case, and a ruling by the Chief Medical Examiner that Eric Garner’s death was a homicide, our criminal justice system did not vote to indict on a single criminal charge. Last week, the grand jury’s decision in the Ferguson left us with a sense of injustice. Today’s decision just adds to the feeling of that our criminal justice system is failing minority victims and letting the perpetrators get away.”

Assemblyman Francisco Moya
“The problem of distrust between our law enforcement and our communities of color has persisted for far too long. It is my hope that Eric Garner’s death spurs a real national conversation about how to repair this relationship so that no other person has to suffer the same fate.”

Councilmember Helen Rosenthal
“It is so deeply disturbing: four police officers subdue Eric Garner—an unarmed civilian—and one applies a chokehold which leads to his death,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal. “And the grand jury does not feel these facts – preserved on a video we’ve all seen – call for a jury trial. A trial is not a conviction. A trial can provide a more public and thorough discussion of what happened and why. A trial is something Eric Garner, his family, and New Yorkers deserve. It is a loss to people of all backgrounds and in all neighborhoods that Eric Garner’s death will not be investigated as part of the American jury trial system.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler
“The grand jury’s failure to indict the officer in the Eric Garner case is shocking and almost unfathomable.  Here you have a case of a video tape of an officer using an illegal chokehold — a hold that is known to be able to cause death, a hold that is illegal for cops to use – which caused the death of Eric Garner.  It is hard to understand how there cannot be probable cause that a crime was committed – especially when there is a videotape.  The fact that there won’t even be a trial is shocking. I want to extend my sympathies to the family and to the community. I urge the Justice Department, which is already investigating the case, to proceed as quickly as possible with a view toward indictment for possible civil rights violations.”

Rep. Nydia Velazquez
“This is not just a New York City problem. The recent tragedies in Ferguson and Cleveland remind us that the deep rift of distrust between our communities and local law enforcement is a national problem – and one that demands a national conversation on race and police practices. Whether it is the Eric Garner case or the incident surrounding Akai Gurley, the young man from my district shot by a police officer, or incidents of police violence in Sunset Park, it is clear that issues of police abuse against minorities remain prevalent and demand a thorough response. In this case, the federal government should swiftly and thoroughly investigate to determine whether Eric Garner’s civil rights were violated.”

State Senator Jeff Klein
“Our hearts and prayers are with the Garner family. I share in President Obama’s call to ensure that as we move forward as a city, state and nation, everything within our power is done to ensure that every individual is treated equally under the law. It is our shared and collective goal that we work towards justice for all.”

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli
“Whether you agree or disagree with the grand jury’s decision, Eric Garner’s death was a tragedy and my thoughts are with his family. We live and work in one of the most diverse and dynamic cities in the world and know what it means to respect one another’s opinions, no matter how strongly held. Positive change will come from peaceful dialogue.”

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries
“Once again, our broken criminal justice system has failed to hold a police officer accountable for the unjustified killing of an unarmed African-American man. The failure to indict is a stunning miscarriage of justice, and makes clear that equal protection under the law does not exist for all Americans. ”

The New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus
“It is now clear to us that every case of police brutality and use of excessive force on unarmed civilians must be investigated by a special prosecutor with no ties to the community or residents were the incident occurred. Only through an independent and transparent investigation of these crimes will communities now so heavily impacted by such actions become more trusting of the police forces empowered to protect them.”

Democracy for America Chair Jim Dean
“If a Staten Island grand jury won’t hold Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo accountable for killing Eric Garner, the very least that Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton can do is demand his badge and ensure that Officer Pantaleo never walks the beat again.”

Marjorie Dove Kent, Executive Director, Jews for Racial & Economic Justice
” …[N]ow we are confronted by the injustice of yet another white police officer found not guilty for murdering a black person. This pattern lays bare the foundation of racism and violence in our country’s police structure, and the absolute need to overhaul the system.”

Police Reform Organizing Project
“The concern and outrage that people are expressing in NYC, Ferguson and elsewhere are driven not only by the perceived injustice of the grand jury’s decision, but by the widely held understanding and knowledge that this outcome is not aberrational, but emblematic, and a continuation, of a long-standing and all too recent history of black men dying at the hands of police officers who face no consequences for their deadly actions. The people marching are frustrated and angry not just about the unpunished egregious violence of the police, but also by the daily and unjustified harassment and targeting of mainly low-income people of color that officers carry out under the cover of such harsh and aggressive law enforcement theories as ‘broken windows’ and ‘zero tolerance’ policing. The calls for calm by political and civic leaders will continue to fall on deaf ears until people, especially persons from the directly affected communities, see convincing evidence that our society and government and their representatives will no longer promote, condone, or engage in unfair and abusive policing in all its forms.”

3 thoughts on “No Indictment in Garner Case: The City Reacts

  1. This is a racist society that worships the cops, and will never hold them accountable for their crimes. We need a revolution, violent or otherwise.

  2. Tragic but Garner knew the routine and should have went quietly. He would have been out on the street the next day. The press conference given by the NYC Congressional delegation showed how stupid they are. Two or three of the members kept on saying ‘DA Murphy’. The Richmond County DA is Daniel DONOVAN, morons.

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