On the fifth anniversary of Eric Garner’s death, New Yorkers will once again return to the streets in protest—this time, at the forefront of their minds will be the Department of Justice’s recent decision not to pursue civil rights charges against the NYPD officer who placed Garner in a deadly chokehold.
As NBC New York reports, at least two protests are planned for Wednesday: one in Manhattan’s Foley Square, and another in Garner’s home borough of Staten Island, at St. George Terminal.
The protests follow the DOJ’s Tuesday announcement that it will not charge Officer Daniel Pantaleo, citing a lack of evidence that Pantaleo had planned to use the chokehold which led to Garner’s death. Garner, who was asthmatic, died of an asthma attack immediately following Pantaleo’s controversial submission tactic, which experts have deemed as illegal. Garner’s final words—“I can’t breathe”—became a national rallying cry for those seeking to address and redress systemic police brutality.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, said the DOJ had failed her and others advocating for justice in her son’s death.
“We looked for better from them,” she said, according to USA Today. “Five years ago, my son said, ‘I can’t breathe’ 11 times, and today, we can’t breathe because they have let us down.”
But Carr promised to keep fighting for her son in a New York Daily News op-ed published early Wednesday morning.
“The NYPD failed us. Mayor de Blasio failed us. And now the DOJ has failed us. But we aren’t going anywhere and we will not be silenced,” she wrote. “We are asking Police Commissioner James O’Neill to fire Pantaleo and all of the officers responsible for Eric’s death. They all must be off the force.”
As USA Today reports, among the voices joining Carr’s was New York Attorney General Letitia James.
“The entire world saw the same devastating video five years ago, and our eyes did not lie,” James said. “Today’s inaction reflects a DOJ that has turned its back on its fundamental mission—to seek and serve justice.”
Richard P. Donoghue, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District in New York, announced the DOJ’s decision and its rationale on Tuesday.
From USA Today:
Donoghue defended the decision, suggesting that the chaotic nature of the struggle involving the officer and Garner resulted in Pantaleo inadvertently grabbing Garner by the neck.
He said Pantaleo tried to employ two approved NYPD tactics to arrest Garner: an armbar, which is used to place handcuffs on a subject, and a “rear takedown” or “seatbelt,” which is used to knock suspects off balance and bring them to the ground.
Donoghue said nothing in the video suggested Pantaleo intentionally placed Garner in a chokehold. He cited the size difference between Pantaleo and Garner as a reason the police officer had trouble subduing Garner.
Pantaleo is still employed by the NYPD and has been on desk duty since Garner’s death. While the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board found the officer had used excessive force in his arrest of Garner, Pantaleo still awaits a decision from an NYPD disciplinary hearing, which is expected to be handed down by the end of August, a city spokesperson told NBC New York.
In a tweet Tuesday, the NYPD stated that a determination in Pantaleo’s case had not yet been made, and would not be affected by the DOJ’s decision.