In a move that is surprising to no one who has been paying attention, Trump’s Justice Department—lead by William Barr, aka “Evil Fred Flintstone”—will not bring any charges against the white New York City police officers who used an illegal chokehold to cut short the life of Eric Garner, reports the Washington Post.
Garner, 43, had committed the egregious and flagrant act of selling loose cigarettes to those in the neighborhood who couldn’t afford to buy a full pack. (In the hood, these loose cigarettes are called “loosies” and the buyer of said pack stands to make a few bucks over the purchase price, if they are lucky.)
On July 17, 2014, several Staten Island, N.Y., police officers approached Garner in an attempt to make the community safer by getting the “loosie” salesman off the street. After a brief conversation between Garner and the officers, Officer Daniel Pantaleo attempted to arrest Garner and held him in an illegal chokehold until Garner began gasping “I can’t breathe.” Garner died from an asthma attack induced by the chokehold used by Officer Pantaleo.
All of this was caught on video and Floriana Persechino, a veteran city medical examiner, ruled Garner’s death a homicide.
Trump’s Justice Department didn’t see any reason to bring federal charges against the officers.
Garner’s supporters saw this coming, even though it’s super disappointing because nothing about the Trump administration sees value in black life. The Trump administration is currently engaged in a “go back to your country” race-based argument with four freshman American congresswomen because it believes, like most white nationalists, that America is Whiteganistan.
“Prosecutors, including Richard P. Donoghue, the U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn, plan to deliver the news to Garner’s family in a meeting Tuesday morning,” the Washington Post reports.
From the Post:
Civil rights prosecutors had advocated vigorously for charges in the case, though they met fierce resistance from their counterparts at the FBI in New York and, at least in the past, the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn.
The Justice Department ultimately removed New York FBI agents from the team of investigators, and—soon before leaving office—Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch authorized the department to move forward. But the decision came so late in her tenure that it was impossible to take all the steps necessary to procure an indictment before President Trump’s appointed Justice Department leaders came in. When they did, the case continued to stall.
Substantiating federal civil rights charges against police officers for on-the-job incidents can be challenging. Prosecutors must present evidence that speaks to an officer’s intent, and it is not enough for them merely to show that an officer acted negligently or recklessly.
It was always going to be an uphill battle to have federal charges brought against the officers. A Staten Island grand jury had already declined to bring charges against the officers. The Post notes that “while federal prosecutors could still pursue the case independently, the FBI’s initial skepticism was documented in internal records, potentially complicating a future trial, current and former law enforcement officials said.”
“For five long years, the United States District Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District has played politics with Mr. Garner’s killing, unnecessarily prolonging his family’s anguish,” Tina Luongo, Attorney-In-Charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at the Legal Aid Society said in a statement sent to The Root.
“All eyes now fall to City Hall, where Mayor Bill de Blasio can finally deliver some measure of justice to the Garner family and those communities historically plagued by police brutality by firing NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo,” Luongo continues. “We hope that the Mayor at long last prioritizes the people of New York over the police union and abandons the political calculation that has ruled his decision making on this matter to date. The Garner family deserves justice and answers now.”
Garner’s last words became a rallying cry for Black Lives Matter protesters tired of the over-policing of black and brown communities. Nothing has changed. Those who inhabit black and brown bodies are still fighting for human rights afforded to others; officers are still aggressively policing communities to which they don’t belong. Colin Kaepernick still doesn’t have an NFL home and Officer Daniel Pantaleo is still on the police force.
And we still can’t breathe.