On Tuesday, July 16, five years after Eric Garner was killed by New York police officer Daniel Pantaleo, the Justice Department declined to file federal charges against Pantaleo. The last avenue for the officer to be held criminally responsible for Garner's death — which occurred in 2014 after Pantaleo held Garner in a chokehold while putting him under arrest — is now closed. The news has brought outrage from activists, celebrities, and presidential candidates, including Julian Castro, who addressed the lack of charges brought against Pantaleo during a press conference.
"I'm disappointed that the Justice Department is not bringing charges against that officer," Castro said. "We saw a video that showed the officer engaged in excessive force against Eric Garner. That he used a choke maneuver that is not supposed to be used by the NYPD. He did that for seven seconds. It was very clear what he was doing. Mr. Garner said 11 different times that he couldn't breathe. This officer had plenty of warning. He should have understood what he was doing, that he was killing Eric Garner."
Pantaleo had a record of excessive policing before Garner's death, with 14 different allegations made against him for abuse and excessive force. Following the reports that the Justice Department declined to file charges against him, it was confirmed that acting Attorney General William Barr, a Trump administration pick, had made the decision himself.
"Attorneys in Washington D.C. for the Civil Rights division of the Department of Justice recommended that charges be brought against this officer," Castro said. "And still, this Department of Justice is not bringing charges. This is a failure of our justice system. It is a travesty."
Garner's case made national headlines in 2014, when footage of his death — recorded by his friend Ramsey Orta — was released in the media. Garner's final words, "I can't breathe," became a national protest chant against police brutality. Following his death, his daughter Erica became a well-known activist. She died just three years after her father, from heart failure.
"If I were president I would move immediately to reform policing in the United States," said Castro in his speech. "So that no matter what color your skin is, what neighborhood you lived in, how much money you have or don't have, you would be treated the same by law enforcement."
Castro is not the only Democratic presidential candidate to condemn the Justice Department's decision. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio released statements expressing their outrage. Castro is, however, the only candidate so far who has proposed a policy to address police reform, and his plan includes ways to hold officers who use excessive force more accountable. He has proposed creating a national database for police officers who have been decertified, and improving existing reporting programs.
During his speech, he listed the names of some of the Black Americans who have been killed by police in recent years: Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald, Walter Scott, Stephon Clark, Sandra Bland, Pamela Turner.
"All of these individuals who are black, who get treated differently by police," Castro said. "I know that we have some great police officers, but this is not the problem of a few bad apples, a system is broken, and we need to fix it."