Federal charges sought in Eric Garner’s chokehold death

By FRANK ELTMAN

NEW YORK (AP) — The widow of Eric Garner and hundreds of protesters rallied outside a courthouse Saturday to call on federal prosecutors to indict the white police officer who put the black New York City man in a fatal chokehold a year ago.

“You all keep me empowered to speak,” Garner’s widow, Esaw Garner, told the demonstrators at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn.

“I will not stop loving him,” she added. “I will never stop fighting for him.”

The rally brought Garner’s family together with the loved ones of other blacks whose high-profile deaths have prompted outcry and protests: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Ramarley Graham. It was the second day of protests to mark the anniversary of Garner’s death on July 17, 2014.

In this undated family photo provided by the National Action Network, Saturday, July 19, 2014, Eric Garner, right, poses with his children during during a family outing. Garner was confronted by police trying to arrest him on suspicion of selling untaxed, loose cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk, authorities said. The 6-foot-3, 350-pound Garner became irate, denying the charges and refusing to be handcuffed before one of the officers placed him in what Police Commissioner William Bratton said appeared to be a chokehold, according to partial video of the encounter obtained by the New York Daily News. (AP Photo/Family photo via National Action Network)
In this undated family photo provided by the National Action Network, Saturday, July 19, 2014, Eric Garner, right, poses with his children during during a family outing. Garner was confronted by police trying to arrest him on suspicion of selling untaxed, loose cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk, authorities said. The 6-foot-3, 350-pound Garner became irate, denying the charges and refusing to be handcuffed before one of the officers placed him in what Police Commissioner William Bratton said appeared to be a chokehold, according to partial video of the encounter obtained by the New York Daily News. (AP Photo/Family photo via National Action Network)

Garner died after the police officer placed an arm around his neck to take him to the ground. A grand jury declined to indict the officer. A federal inquiry is ongoing but the protesters said they want charges to be brought now.

Bertha Lewis, the founder of a nonprofit called the Black Institute, noted that a former official with FIFA, soccer’s governing body, was appearing in the same courthouse to face charges of racketeering and bribery.

“If you can indict FIFA you can bring an indictment in the Eric Garner case,” she said.

Loved ones of Martin, the unarmed 17-year-old shot to death in Florida in 2012 by a man who reported a suspicious person in his neighborhood; Brown, the 18-year-old shot to death by police in Ferguson, Missouri, last August; and Graham, an 18-year-old shot to death by a NYPD officer in 2012, all joined Saturday’s demonstration.

Police stopped Garner on a sidewalk on Staten Island because they believed he was illegally selling loose cigarettes. Officer Daniel Pantaleo placed his arm around Garner’s neck to take him down and cellphone video captured Garner gasping “I can’t breathe!” 11 times before losing consciousness.

His death, coupled with police killings of unarmed black men elsewhere, spurred protests around the country about police treatment of black men.

Protesters in Brooklyn wore T-shirts that said “I can’t breathe” and joined the Rev. Al Sharpton in chanting “No justice, no peace!”

“We stand together today by the hundreds saying we don’t care how long it takes. We want justice for Eric Garner,” Sharpton said.

The city medical examiner found that the chokehold contributed to Garner’s death. Chokeholds are banned by New York Police Department policy, but Pantaleo has said that he used a legal takedown maneuver known as a seatbelt, not a chokehold.

Garner’s family reached a $5.9 million settlement with New York City this week over the death. But family members and their supporters have said they want reform of the criminal justice system, not just a cash settlement.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, called for an end to secrecy of grand jury system.

“Black lives DO matter,” she said.

 

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