One Year Later, Protesters Are Still Going to Jail for Eric Garner


It's been one year since a New York grand jury declined to bring charges against Daniel Pantaleo, the New York Police Department officer at the center of a video in which Eric Garner was strangled to death. Garner's death, which happened on Staten Island in the summer of 2014, galvanized people across the country; thousands took to the streets, director Spike Lee released his own edited video of the incident, and Garner's final words —"I Can't Breathe" —became a rallying cry for thousands more protesters, including many of America's top black athletes

On Thursday, Dec. 3, dozens more protesters took to the streets surrounding Gracie Mansion, the residence of New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, with one key demand: that Pantaleo be fired.

"We still haven't seen justice," Tamika Mallory, a protester with Justice League NYC who was arrested on Thursday, told Mic. "We know that the families have received a settlement, but even they have said no amount of money equals justice for a man who took the life of their loved one who we consider to be a part of our community," Mallory continued. "We know Eric Garner could have been any one of us, [and] we wanna see Pantaleo and all officers involved held accountable for their actions. That hasn't happened to date."

After the grand jury's decision, Pantaleo, 30, was assigned to desk duty pending an investigation by the Department of Justice. NYPD police commissioner William Bratton told reporters on Thursday that the department's decision on the officer's employment was essentially on hold until the DOJ's findings are released. "We have completed our administrative investigation and we're ready to proceed with it, however at the requests of the U.S. Attorney General and the active U.S. Attorney of the Eastern District, we have effectively stopped our investigation until they complete theirs," Bratton said at a press conference Wednesday. "We respond to their requests."

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That process is also what led to more action from those calling for accountability. "It's important to keep taking action, to keep it visible, to remind [the NYPD] that people and communities still care and that people and communities are still watching," Autumn Marie, an organizer with Black Lives Matter New York City, told Mic. "[Pantaleo] is continuing to be paid by New York City tax dollars while this investigation is taking place."

Garner was a 43-year-old father of four. Since his death, his family has been at the forefront of activism surrounding his case. Erica Garner, his daughter, told Mic on the anniversary of his passing last July: "I didn't choose this [activism]. But I'm embracing this. I want to keep his name alive, [and] never let people forget."

Thursday's protests also permeated across social media with the hashtag #ChokeholdOnTheCity. 

Mallory, the protester who was arrested, voiced concern about the DOJ's track record in cases similar to Garner's. Citing the cases of both Mike Brown, the black teen who was shot and killed by a police officer in Missouri and in which the Justice Department declined to charge, and Ramarley Graham, another black teen who was killed by police in New York City whose case is still under review, Mallory said "we've not seen that system work for people of color in this country." 

De Blasio, who was elected to office in part because of his vocal support of police accountability, is now in the hot seat. "We would like to see the mayor exercise the power he has," Mallory told Mic. "The city does have the power to fire Pantaleo, but they choose not to [and] we have to apply that pressure."