New York City Police Officer Won’t Face Criminal Charges in Eric Garner Death – Wall Street Journal
A New York City grand jury on Wednesday declined to indict a police officer in the death of an unarmed African-American, sparking a federal investigation and renewing a wave of law-enforcement-focused protests that swept the country after another black man was fatally shot by an officer in Missouri.
The grand jury’s decision drew cries of outrage from many New York elected officials, and city leaders called for calm as protesters marched through Manhattan, denouncing the death of
43 years old, who died after being held in an apparent police chokehold on July 17 in the city’s borough of Staten Island.
The decision also elicited a quick reaction from President
who said Mr. Garner’s death “speaks to the larger issues” of trust between police and civilians. He renewed a vow to repair police-community relations.
announced Wednesday night that the Justice Department would launch an “independent, thorough, fair, and expeditious” civil rights probe into Mr. Garner’s death. Previously, the department had been monitoring the local investigation of the case.
“His death of course was a tragedy. All lives must be valued,’’ the attorney general said, acknowledging that some are “disappointed and frustrated’’ by the grand jury decision.
He added that “we must seek to heal the breakdown in trust that we have seen’’ between law enforcement and minority communities.
A widely circulated video of Mr. Garner’s final moments showed the white officer,
with his arm wrapped around Mr. Garner’s neck, wrestling him to the ground in an attempt to arrest him for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes.
Mr. Garner could be heard saying, “I can’t breathe.” His death was ruled a homicide, and New York Police Department officials have said the chokehold technique generally isn’t allowed.
Protesters fanned out across New York City and emerged elsewhere in the country after the grand jury’s decision, which comes a little more than a week after a grand jury in Missouri declined to indict a white police officer,
who shot an unarmed black 18-year-old,
Violent clashes with police, widespread looting and arson erupted following a local grand jury’s Nov. 24 decision not to indict Mr. Wilson.
Large numbers of police officers worked to keep hundreds of protesters—chanting “I can’t breathe”—from disrupting the annual tree-lighting ceremony in Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center.
As of 9 p.m., about 32 people had been arrested, all near Rockefeller Center, after demonstrators tried to break down police barriers, said NYPD spokesman
Protestors also closed down a portion of the Westside Highway near 50th Street Wednesday night.
went to Staten Island and called for calm, citing the wishes of Mr. Garner’s family. “If you really want to dignify the life of Eric Garner, you will do so through peaceful protest; you will work relentlessly for change,” he said.
In downtown Washington, D.C., scores of protesters blocked traffic on Connecticut Avenue on Wednesday evening, chanting “This is what democracy looks like” and other slogans. They then moved north to
Circle, trailed by police vehicles.
Mr. Holder, who has announced he will step down after a successor is confirmed, will travel to five more cities in coming weeks, as part of the Obama administration’s effort to repair relationships between police and minority communities.
the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, N.Y., is Mr. Obama’s choice to replace Mr. Holder. Ms. Lynch’s office is overseeing the federal probe of the Garner case, which could complicate her nomination. Confirmation hearings for Ms. Lynch are not expected to begin until next year, and it is unclear how long her office will take to investigate the Garner matter.
Emotions ran high Wednesday, as New Yorkers voiced a mixture of anger and frustration.
“It’s just like getting a knife and stabbing my heart,” said Mr. Garner’s stepfather,
at the site on Staten Island where Mr. Garner was arrested. “It’s just a license to kill a black man.”
Family and friends said Mr. Garner was married with six children and two grandchildren. Mr. Garner has a criminal record that includes more than 30 arrests dating back to 1980 on charges such as assault, resisting arrest, grand larceny. An official said the charges include multiple incidents in which he was arrested for selling unlicensed cigarettes.
In a statement released shortly after the grand jury decision was announced, Staten Island District Attorney
expressed condolences to Mr. Garner’s family and laid out his office’s investigation into Mr. Garner’s death, which he said spanned four months.
More than 38 interviews were conducted, and 22 civilian witnesses reported to have seen some part of the interaction between Mr. Garner and the police, Mr. Donovan said.
“Clearly, this matter was of special concern in that an unarmed citizen of our County had died in police custody,” Mr. Donovan said of his August decision to empanel a special grand jury to hear the case.
A large amount of grand-jury information was released in Missouri after Mr. Wilson wasn’t indicted.
In a rare public comment issued through his union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Officer Pantaleo, an eight-year veteran, said he became a police officer to help and protect others.
“It is never my intention to harm anyone, and I feel very bad about the death of Mr. Garner,” Officer Pantaleo said.
Staten Island has a higher density of whites than elsewhere in New York state, according to 2013 U.S. Census Bureau data—77.6% compared with 70.9% statewide—and is home to many New York City police and other government workers. Blacks make up 11.8% of the borough’s population, compared with 17.5% statewide.
—Pervaiz Shallwani, Devlin Barrett, Mike Vilensky and Joe Jackson contributed to this article.
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