Update, 2:34 a.m. Thursday, December 4: Protesters Sweep Manhattan After Eric Garner Decision
The news comes one week after a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, declined to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot teenager Michael Brown. Garner and Brown, both black, were killed less than a month apart by white police officers this summer.
See also: ‘I Was Choked by the NYPD’
Jonathan Moore, an attorney for the Garner family, did not immediately return a call from the Voice seeking comment, and a call to Douglas Auer, spokesman for the Richmond County District Attorney’s office, was likewise not immediately returned. Linda Sachs, spokeswoman for the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which fields complaints about the NYPD, had no comment on the grand jury’s decision. The CCRB is presently reviewing multiple complaints it has received pertaining to the Garner case.
On the day he died, officers approached Garner, suspicious that he was illegally selling loose cigarettes. An argument followed. During it, Pantaleo put Garner in a chokehold. The whole thing, including Garner gasping and repeatedly telling the officers he couldn’t breathe, was captured on video by Garner’s friend Ramsey Orta. A medical examiner would later classify Garner’s death as a homicide.
In a statement released through his union, the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, Pantaleo expressed remorse over Garner’s death.
“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,” Panatleo said. “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.”
Pantaleo was stripped of his gun and badge following the incident in July. It remained unclear on Wednesday whether he would return to the force; if he plans to retire from policing, PBA president Patrick Lynch gave no such indication in a statement released on Wednesday. “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,” Lynch said.
Unlike in Ferguson, witness testimony from the Staten Island grand jury will likely remain sealed. Grand jury testimony and proceedings are by law confidential in New York and virtually every other state. In rare circumstances, testimony from grand juries in New York has been released under court order, but legal experts tell the Voice they doubt any of the grand jury’s records will ever see the light of day.
On Monday afternoon, the NYPD appeared poised and ready to respond to demonstrations against the verdict. Around noon in Union Square, a Voice reporter counted no fewer than three command trucks — one at 15th Street and Third Avenue, one at 12th Street and Fourth Avenue, and one at 15th Street and Fourth Avenue — and 13 officers (at the corner of 15th and Third).
“Hopefully everything will be smooth and it won’t ruin the tree lighting tonight,” an officer stationed at one of the sites said on Wednesday. The Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting was scheduled to take place that evening in midtown. The event was expected to draw thousands. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office announced that he will skip the ceremony to be in Staten Island.
Vans and police trucks have become a fixture in the neighborhood since crowds began meeting there to protest police brutality a week ago.
“We, as you might expect, are planning accordingly,” New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton told reporters Tuesday morning. The commissioner canceled an appearance he was scheduled to make on NY1 Monday evening when the news began to break that afternoon.
Additional reporting by Katie Toth and Jon Campbell.
See additional photos of Wednesday night’s protests on the next page.