Eric Garner’s Death: How a Video Undermines a Police Narrative


The NYPD’s internal report about the death of Eric Garner explained what happened through the eyes of the officers at the scene. As the Daily News first reported, one officer said that Garner “resisted arrest” while being apprehended in Staten Island last week. He was “struggling” with Officers Justin Damico and Daniel Pantaleo, who “attempted to place him in handcuffs.”

See Also: De Blasio Addresses Death of Man Strangled by NYPD Officer

Other officers gathered to help “[maintain] control of him.” Garner “did not appear to be in great distress.” One officer “believed she heard the perpetrator state that he was having difficulty breathing.” But though Garner at some point “became unresponsive,” he “was observed to be breathing.” His “condition did not seem serious and… he did not appear to get worse.”

Only “when he was placed on the stretcher by EMTs,” did Garner go “into cardiac arrest.”

There was no mention of a chokehold.

And on Tuesday, the Medical Examiner’s Office announced that an autopsy did not explain the cause of Garner’s death. “Further tests need to be conducted before determining a manner and cause of death,” a spokesperson told the Daily News.

And that’s where it might have stood. A 43-year-old man resisted arrest. He was known to sell untaxed cigarettes. He was known to have asthma. He became unconscious after his struggle. He later died. And the autopsy offers no reason to dispute that narrative.

It’s a narrative we’ve heard before. On September 17, 25-year-old Barrington Williams died in police custody. According to the NYPD, officers approached him because they suspected that he was selling MetroCard swipes at the East 161st Street B/D subway station in the Bronx. Williams ran from the officers, according to the officers.

See Also: Barrington Williams Died From Asthma Attack After Police Chase, Medical Examiner Says

They caught him and arrested him. At some point during the arrest, Williams became “unconscious and unresponsive.” The autopsy was inconclusive. Two months later, after more testing, the Medical Examiner’s Officer ruled that Williams had died of a severe asthma attack.

And that was that. There was no evidence to dispute that simple narrative, no evidence to add to it. Few, if any, remember Barrington Williams’s death.

And maybe few would have remembered Eric Garner’s death.

But there was a video — a 13-minute clip that showed Garner asking two officers why they kept harassing him; that showed an officer, Daniel Pantaleo, sliding behind Garner and wrapping his arm around his neck and squeezing. A chokehold. Garner dropped to the ground and the officer kept squeezing. Garner — as we all heard in the video — said, “I can’t breath, I can’t breath,” yet the officer kept squeezing. Other officers gathered. One pushed Garner’s head into the concrete. Pantaleo kept squeezing. Soon Garner’s body appeared lifeless and the police officials in suits were shooing away the bystanders.