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Family of Man Killed in Brooklyn Stairwell Wants Homicide Charge for Cop

Fri, 12/05/2014 - 11:22

Kevin Powell, a spokesman for the parents of Akai Gurley, addresses reporters with the parents today. (Photo: Ross Barkan)

Two days after a Staten Island grand jury voted not to indict a white police officer in the death of Eric Garner, a spokesman for the family of Akai Gurley, a Brooklyn man shot and killed by a cop last month, called for the Brooklyn district attorney to charge the police officer with homicide.

“We want a full investigation into this situation from Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. We feel that the officer should be charged with homicide–we don’t believe this was just an accident,” said Kevin Powell, a spokesman for the family and an activist with the civil rights group BK Nation.

Referring to Garner, the black Staten Island man who died in police custody after he was placed in an apparent chokehold, Mr. Powell–speaking to reporters with the parents of Gurley at Brown Memorial Baptist Church in Brooklyn–compared a recent spate of fatal confrontations between police and people of color to a “series of modern day lynchings.”

“We believe that in our country that elected the first black, biracial, multicultural president of the United States in 2008, where you saw a cross section of people of all different races and cultures coming together, that these incidents need to stop. It should be unacceptable in our civilization, in our democracy,” he said.

The ornate church where the parents of Gurley briefly addressed the press was located in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, not in East New York where Gurley, 28, died last month. The unarmed Gurley, walking in a dimly-lit stairwell of the Louis Pink Houses, was shot once by rookie cop Peter Liang and died shortly after. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton called the shooting an “accident,” a characterization rejected by the Gurley family and local elected officials like Congressman Hakeem Jeffries and Assemblyman-elect Charles Barron.

Mr. de Blasio urged the public not to “connect the dots” between the Gurley death and other incidents, like the Garner case and the uproar in Ferguson, Mo. after a grand jury failed to indict a white police officer for shooting to death a black teenager. But the spokesman for the Gurley family was more than willing to do just that.

Choking back tears, Gurley’s mother Sylvia Palmer called her son a “good family man.”

“My son was my life. There’s nothing in this world that can heal my pain and my heartache,” she said, her voice cracking. “I pray to God that I get justice for my son because my son didn’t deserve to die like that.”

Ms. Palmer said she was looking forward to spending Thanksgiving with her son and his 2-year-old daughter. “There will never be another Thanksgiving, another Christmas.”

“He hasn’t done nothing wrong,” she cried.

Kenneth Palmer, Gurley’s father, stood behind his seated wife and tried to console her.

“My son was the best son. My son was my sunshine and my wife’s sunshine,” he said.

Mr. Powell said he hoped Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson, an African-American prosecutor who won election last year on a platform of police reform, would ultimately be able to bring charges against Mr. Liang. The U.S. Department of Justice is now investigating the Garner case after a grand jury failed to bring an indictment.

“We hope Mr. Thompson will do the right thing by this family,” he said.

A wake will be held for Gurley at the church tonight, Mr. Powell said.

‘Preaching to the Converted:’ de Blasio Makes Another Progressive Pitch

Fri, 12/05/2014 - 11:13

Mayor Bill de Blasio. (Photo: Ilya Savenok/Getty Images)

Mayor Bill de Blasio made another pitch for progressives to take on the “status quo” and get their message out nationally today, in remarks to a group of like-minded lawmakers from around the country.

“Implicitly, history is on our side. The people are on our side. Sometimes, the only problem is: we have trouble seeing it. And that’s not an indictment of us, that’s more of an acknowledgment of the challenges we face in the trenches—because there’s a whole host of messages that we receive every single day, telling us that what we see before our eyes can’t be possible,” Mr. de Blasio told a modest audience at the “Local Progress National Convening” in the City Council chambers.

Mr. de Blasio’s message echoed his comments after the Democrats disastrous performance in the mid-term elections—when he urged them to lean left rather than play to the center. The mayor once again insisted if people were getting a clear message of what progressives stood for—higher wages, addressing income inequality, respecting immigrants—Democrats would enjoy more support. But those they are fighting against, he said, are working to muddy the waters.

“When you’re fighting against the status quo, it is not surprising that the status quo will tell you you’re crazy. It will tell you what you’re trying to do is impossible. It will tell you what you’re trying to do won’t work,” Mr. de Blasio said.

The mayor acknowledged he was “preaching to the converted,” a room full of progressive lawmakers from cities around the nation. Still, his remarks come at a time when some of those progressive converts in the city remain deeply frustrated with the status quo and have been expressing that frustration publicly: the police department Mr. de Blasio oversees arrested some 223 people last night for protesting a grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner, a black Staten Island man. The mayor did not address those arrests in his speech, and refused to answer questions from reporters about the demonstrations after his remarks.

Mr. de Blasio did tick off a list of New York’s successes on the progressive front—reductions in stop-and-frisk and fewer innocent people being stopped (though the racial breakdown remains largely unchanged, and the vast majority of those stopped are not charged), creating municipal ID cards, ending cooperation with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement on detaining undocumented immigrants, and his universal pre-kindergarten program. And he highlighted the idea that change coming from cities and states could spread nationally, citing the dramatic case of gay marriage—something elected officials difficult to accomplish 10 years ago that is now a reality in a majority of states.

“In my personal view, if you tell me something is impossible it just makes want to do it more,” Mr. de Blasio said. “We are not gonna accept the notion that we can’t raise wages and benefits and we can’t give kids full-day pre-K, that we can’t treat immigrants with respect. We’re just not going to accept those notions and boundaries that were repeated and repeated and repeated so constantly but really never were deeply real.”

Once More, Thousands of Garner Protesters Flood Manhattan

Thu, 12/04/2014 - 22:35

The protest tonight. (Photo: Will Bredderman)

Several thousand protesters flooded Manhattan streets for the second night in a row to decry a Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner.

Massing at Foley Square in Downtown Manhattan tonight, the marchers split off in several directions, clogging the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge and West Side Highway, stranding motorists on main thoroughfares like Broadway as police officers looked on.

“We’re trying to prove that our lives matter, that black and brown youth shouldn’t be able to get killed and officers shouldn’t be able to get away with killing us, because we are people and human beings and deserve to live just as much as anybody else,” said Markeys Gonzalez, a youth coordinator with Make the Road New York, an immigrant rights organization which helped organize the event.

The nucleus of the protest in Foley Square was the abstract granite “Triumph of the Human Spirit” sculpture. From there, protest leaders used a bullhorn and the Occupy Wall Street call-and-response “mic check” method to send chants rippling through the crowd.

The mothers of Ramarley Graham, an unarmed Bronx youth whom a cop shot inside the deceased’s apartment in 2012, and of Mohamed Bah–an African immigrant who was killed by police after he stabbed several cops inside his Manhattan home, addressed the crowd.

Protesters outside the Staten Island Ferry tonight. (Photo: Will Bredderman)

“I’m here tonight because of another tragedy, that wasn’t supposed to happen. I told you two years ago that we would be here again,” said Constance Malcolm, Graham’s mother, the audience echoing her every word. “We need police accountable. We can’t bury our kids all the time while these officers go home to their families.”

Marchers were not deterred as the temperature began to drop. Recycling chants from past protests like “No justice, no peace, no racist police” and “Shut it down, shut it down, Eric Garner, Mike Brown,” the left-wing crowd even took aim at Mayor Bill de Blasio, a liberal Democrat, briefly crying “This Bill de Blasio has got to go” in Foley Square.

One contingent, streaming past One Police Plaza and City Hall, snarled traffic on Chambers Street and Broadway, snaking west on Canal Street and eventually pouring onto the West Side Highway. The mood was more jubilant than confrontational as police stoically monitored the protest–up above, the pale spotlights of NYPD helicopters cut through the night.

Like in the protests yesterday following Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan’s announcement that a grand jury would not bring charges against the white police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, who placed Garner in an apparent chokehold which led to his death in July, most of the motorists and bystanders caught up in the wave of marchers cheered them on. A cabbie sprung from his vehicle on Canal Street to high-five protesters; another man honked his horn in time with a “Hands up, don’t shoot” chant.

The protest came a little over a week after a grand jury decided not to indict a white police officer for shooting to death a black teenager in Ferguson, Mo. The death of the teen, Michael Brown, spurred violent protests in Ferguson and large, peaceful marches here.

On Broadway, several dozen protesters stopped in the middle of the street, lying down for a so-called “die-in.” After walking up Broadway and along Canal Street to a chorus of honking horns, one group split up at the entrance to the Holland Tunnel, with another group turning south on Hudson Street and redoubling back toward Chambers Street.

A cluster of protesters ran into a police barricade on the West Side Highway just above Canal Street. Some tried to charm the police standing silently in riot gear. “Whose side are you on?” one woman asked a black police officer, who just smiled and did not answer.

As marchers stopped traffic in Downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn, a group broke off to board the Staten Island Ferry to the Tompkinsvile site where Garner died. The demonstrators massed near the ferry as police cars screamed down the tangled side streets of the Financial District to catch up. Police barricaded the charging bull statue nearby, a symbol of the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011, as marchers chanted, “Who protects Wall Street? NYPD” and “Shame on you.”

“We represented him there and he was known to be a nice guy,” said Bret Taylor, vice president in the Manhattan criminal defense office UAW Local 2325, Association of Legal Aid attorneys. Mr. Taylor was referring to Garner, who was once a client of his union’s Staten Island attorneys.

“We see the results of police brutality every day, when we see our clients come into court and be mistreated by the police, it’s a big problem. In this case, fortunately, it was on video, so people could see what happened, but I think it happens a lot,” he added.

De Blasio: ‘No Doubt That Some Tragedies Will Be Averted’ With NYPD Retraining

Thu, 12/04/2014 - 18:47

Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at the Police Academy today as Commissioner Bill Bratton looks on. (Photo: Jillian Jorgensen)

Mayor Bill de Blasio and top police brass offered details today on an NYPD retraining initiative that he has repeatedly heralded in the wake of the Eric Garner grand jury decision—but he stopped short of saying the new instruction would have prevented Garner’s death.

“I think we all know that those hypotheticals only get us so far. I think you’re gonna see a very different reality after this training has been achieved. I think this will protect our officers. I think it will protect the lives of our citizens. I have no doubt that some tragedies will be averted,” Mr. de Blasio said today when asked if the new guidelines would have forestalled Garner’s death.

Garner, 43, a black Staten Island man, died after a white police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, placed him in an apparent chokehold while trying to arrest him for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. A Staten island grand jury decided yesterday not to charge Mr. Pantaleo in the death, which has stoked tensions between police and the minority community.

Mr. de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton have cited the retraining effort as one way to continue to mend the relationship between police and those they protect.

“If we police this way, it’s going to result in fewer injuries to citizens, it’s going to result in fewer injuries to officers, it’s gonna result in fewer complaints about officers,” Mr. Bratton said.

Mr. Bratton had made retraining a priority when he began at the department, and initial efforts began in March. Just days after Garner’s death, Mr. Bratton called for “top-to-bottom retraining” of the department, particularly around the use of force. Over the following months, he and Mr. de Blasio fleshed out further details of what that would entail—offering up an outline of the three-day in-service training more fully laid out today. The in-service instruction is something new for the department, police officials said: besides routine firearms training, most police officers never received additional training after leaving the academy in the past.

“We train and retrain in so many fields—think about airline pilots, think about members of the military, think about teachers,” Mr. de Blasio said. “We haven’t done that enough with the people we depend on to protect us.”

Placards placed behind the mayor and police officials outlined what the three days would focus on—beginning with topics like the “nobility of policing,” ensuring officers have the right “heart set, mindset, skillset, and toolset,” and the importance of not pre-judging people on day one.

Day two would include topics surrounding interactions with the public before an arrest or force might become necessary—reminding officers that cursing at a cop is not a crime, that they should not use foul language, emphasizing the value of communication and other “smart policing techniques.”

Day three focuses on how to proceed if an arrest or force is necessary—tactical skills such as the proper holds to use in subduing a suspect.

But First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker spoke of the need to avoid “taking someone down” when you could “talk them down” instead.

“When I was a cop, I’d much rather make an arrest in a way where I don’t have to roll around on the ground with a suspect—it’s never fun,” Mr. Tucker said.

Deputy Commissioner Michael Julian said pointed to a difference between those who are “actually resisting arrest” and those are “not cooperating” during an arrest. Some have disputed the idea Garner resisted arrest, and might argue “not cooperating” is a more accurate description of his verbal protests to police, caught on video.

“We never taught police how to deal with that,” Mr. Julian said of people not cooperating. “So the police officer’s only option was restraint.”

But in a nonviolent situation, he said, there are other options, like bringing in an intermediary such as allowing a parent to speak to a young person before police resort to using force for an arrest.

“We have to be more human and understand it’s not a threat,” he said, to allow for communication.

The training will cost $35 million in this fiscal year, the mayor said, and the department will evaluate additional costs going forward. By June, 20,000 officers will have been trained, Mr. Tucker said.

Bill de Blasio Defends ‘Dante’ Remark After PBA Boss Blasts Him Again

Thu, 12/04/2014 - 17:12

Bill de Blasio celebrates his mayoral victory with his children Dante and Chiara. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

After a police union leader ripped Mayor Bill de Blasio for telling reporters last night that he worries about whether his biracial teenage son is safe from police, the mayor defended his remarks today, contending that he was just explaining a sobering reality for many New Yorkers.

“I don’t think denying that reality is going to move us forward. What we’re trying to create is a dynamic where every young person of color understands that a police officer is there to protect them and they feel respected,” Mr. de Blasio told reporters at a police-related press conference in Queens. “We’re not there yet.”

Patrick Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, blasted Mr. de Blasio for comments he made after a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner, a black Staten Islander. Mr. de Blasio said he had to “worry over the years” and asked himself: “Is Dante safe each night?”

“And not just from some of the painful realities of crime and violence in some of our neighborhoods but safe from the very people they want to have faith in as their protectors,” the mayor said.

Mr. Lynch, a frequent critic of Mr. de Blasio, said in a press conference today that the Democratic mayor once more threw cops “under the bus.”

“He spoke about, ‘We have to teach our children that their interaction with the police and that they should be afraid of New York City police officers.’ That’s not true,” Mr. Lynch charged. “We have to teach our children, our sons and our daughters, no matter what they look like, to respect New York City police officers, teach them to comply with New York City police officers even if they think it’s unjust.”

Mr. de Blasio, in response, implied that police officers do not always agree with Mr. Lynch, taking a subtle swipe at the union leader. The mayor and the cop union heads have been at odds as they try to negotiate a new contracts for NYPD officers and Mr. de Blasio tries to reform the department.

“There’s always a difference between the people who do the work and the unions that represent them and the union leaders that represent them,” Mr. de Blasio said. “I think the rank-and-file, hard-working members of this department understand this strategy because they’ve been implementing it with extraordinary effect,” he added, referring to the NYPD’s handling of recent protests.

Mr. de Blasio said New Yorkers should be respectful of police and follow their instructions, but also argued this was different than understanding that some people fear the police.

“I do want to emphasize, there’s a difference between saying we should respect our officers, which of course we should …versus the reality that so many parents have felt that unfortunately their child might confront unfair treatment, unequal treatment,” he said, invoking the police killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland.

He added, “That’s a very different point. Those instructions are given both out of the hope that things would be fair in our society and the hope that we could all be treated the way we are supposed to but the fear that it might not happen for their child and the consequences could be deadly.”

Jillian Jorgensen contributed reporting.

Bill de Blasio: ‘More Information Would Be Helpful’ From Garner Grand Jury

Thu, 12/04/2014 - 16:51

Protests for Eric Garner. (Daniel Cole/For New York Observer)

Mayor Bill de Blasio said today he believed more information should be released to the public in the Eric Garner case.

“On a common sense level, I think more information would be helpful,” Mr. de Blasio, who noted he is not a lawyer, told the Observer at press conference at the Police Academy in Queens.

Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan asked a state judge to release only “specific information” about the evidence presented to the grand jury that declined to bring an indictment in the death of Eric Garner, a black Staten Island man who died as a white police officer, Daniel Pantaelo, tried to arrest him. Mr. Donovan did not request the release of transcripts or evidence seen by the jurors—material that was released in the wake of grand jury deliberations in the Michael Brown case in Missouri.

“I think people have a lot of questions, and they’d like to understand more of what was presented to the grand jury and how deliberations were done,” Mr. de Blasio told the Observer when asked whether Mr. Donovan should request the release of transcripts and other material. “I think that would be helpful.”

Unlike other elected officials, the mayor has declined to criticize Mr. Donovan or the grand jury for their decision not to bring an indictment in the case.

The information requested for release by Mr. Donovan, and released in the judge’s ruling, was extremely limited: that the grand jury sat for nine weeks, heard from 50 witnesses (22 of them civilians), were informed of the laws regulating use of force and were presented 60 exhibits of evidence. That evidence included four videos, records about NYPD policies, procedures and training, autopsy photographs, records of Garner’s medical treatment after his encounter with Mr. Pantaleo and photographs of the scene.

Judge Unseals Evidence, But Not Transcripts, of Eric Garner Grand Jury

Thu, 12/04/2014 - 15:31

A memorial of Michael Brown, 18, next to the one of Eric Garner, is viewed outside of filmmaker’s Spike Lee’s 40 Acres offices in August (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images).

A Staten Island judge agreed today to release just a few sparse details about the evidence the prosecutor presented to the 23-member grand jury that decided not to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the July homicide of Eric Garner, a black Staten Island resident.

Mr. Donovan asked yesterday to release “specific information” about the evidence presented, though not full transcripts of the proceedings or the exhibits the jurors saw—all of which are legally sealed in New York State. But Judge Stephen Rooney agreed only to put out a vague summary of what transpired in the closed room.

“Upon balancing the competing interests of disclosure and confidentiality in the matter at hand, petitioner has sustained his burden of establishing the existence of facts warranting limited disclosure of certain aspects of this grand jury proceeding in the interest of assuring the public that the relevant evidence was presented to that body, empaneled for the sole purpose of deciding whether reasonable cause existed to charge anyone with a crime in the death of Eric Garner,” Mr. Rooney wrote in his decision.

All that Mr. Rooney revealed was that the grand jury sat for nine weeks, heard from 50 witnesses (22 of them civilians), were informed of the laws regulating use of force and were presented 60 exhibits of evidence. That evidence included four videos, records about NYPD policies, procedures and training, autopsy photographs, records of Garner’s medical treatment after his encounter with Mr. Pantaleo and photographs of the scene.

Mr. Donovan said he would make no further remarks on the case.

“I respect the court’s exercise of its discretion, and will abide by the court’s order. As such, I will have no further comment in connection with the grand jury proceedings relating to the matter of the Investigation into the Death of Eric Garner,” he said in his statement to the press.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was disappointed at how little Mr. Rooney elected to disclose.

“On a common sense level I think more information would be helpful. I think people have a lot of questions,” Mr. de Blasio told the Observer.

Some politicians and advocates have maintained that Mr. Donovan, a Republican, was too close to law enforcement to impartially present evidence. A federal investigation of the incident is now underway.

In the case of Michael Brown, a black teenager shot to death by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., a Missouri prosecutor last week released far more details about the grand jury decision’s not to indict the officer. The Ferguson case set off violent protests in Missouri and around the country.

Updated to clarify what Mr. Donovan requested to have released, and to include comment from Mr. de Blasio.

Cuomo Calls for Statewide Police Reforms After ‘Damning’ Garner Video

Thu, 12/04/2014 - 13:29

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images).

Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a sweeping, if somewhat vague, package of changes to policing and prosecution today that he hopes the state legislature will take up next year in reaction to the non-indictment of a police officer in the homicide of Eric Garner, a black Staten Island man.

Speaking on the Capitol Pressroom radio show, Mr. Cuomo rattled off a long list of of changes he said he would seek from the State Senate and Assembly next year to prevent a recurrence of the fatal encounter between the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, and Garner in July.

“I think we need a comprehensive look. This is about race relations, this is about police training, certainly, and better training, this is about transparency, this is about accountability, this is about diversity in the police force, it’s all of the above,” he said.

“And it’s about the grand jury process and possible reforms to the grand jury process. It is about cameras on police. It’s about the laws concerning a police officer and their right to affect an arrest. I think we should have a comprehensive review of all of the change of venue comes up, the D.A.’s role and procedures comes up. I think there should be an opportunity look at all of the above,” he added.

Nonetheless, Mr. Cuomo would not commit specifically to a law requiring a special prosecutor to handle allegations of police misconduct. A number of politicians and advocates have suggested that Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan, a Republican, was too close to the police to properly present evidence to the grand jury that determined there was insufficient cause to charge Mr. Pantaleo with a crime.

“I think we should look at the whole. I don’t think there’s going to be any one answer. I think that’s, that’s the first point, right? Because this is not just Eric Garner, this is not just Missouri, it’s bigger and broader and with a fundamental genesis. And I think we should look at the whole system and it’s not going to be just one quick fix,” he continued, alluding to protests in Ferguson, Mo. over a white police officer’s killing of black 18-year-old Michael Brown and a grand jury’s subsequent non-indictment of the officer, Darren Wilson.

Mr. Cuomo argued that reforms are necessary to the continued proper functioning of state government and society as a whole.

“This is troubling and disturbing to say the least. You know, the justice system is a fundamental institution of our democracy, and it has two basic goals: to do justice, to deliver a just outcome, and two, to instill in the public confidence that the justice system works for all, right?” he said. “That justice is blind, justice for all. And we have a large segment of the population that believes that they do not get justice. If the justice system does not have confidence, then we have a real problem in our society.”

Mr. Cuomo said he saw a trend in the abuse and killings of black men by law enforcement. He recalled the 2012 shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin at the hands of Sanford, Fla. neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, the 1999 death of Amadou Diallo in a hail of NYPD bullets, the killing of Sean Bell on his wedding day in 2006 and the case of Abner Louima, who was brutally beaten, tortured and sodomized with a broom handle by police officers in Brooklyn in 1997.

Only Mr. Louima’s case resulted in an indictment and imprisonment for the officers involved.

“It’s not just this case, it’s not just this year. It is, as you say, Martin and Diallo and Bell and Louima, it’s Missouri,” Mr. Cuomo said.

The governor added that he sympathized with those who viewed the video of Garner’s death, which shows the deceased repeatedly declaring “I can’t breathe” with Mr. Pantaleo on his back and with the cop’s forearm around his throat.

“The video tape was damning in its apparent suggestion as to what happened,” Mr. Cuomo said, attributing the protests that wracked the city last night to the video and disappointment in the legally required secrecy of the grand jury proceedings. “Nobody knows what happened in that room. But the incongruity between what was apparent on the video tape and the grand jury’s decision has trouble many people, and that’s what the protests are all about, et cetera.”

Bill Bratton Says Eric Garner Grand Jury Shouldn’t Be Criticized

Thu, 12/04/2014 - 12:45

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said today that people should not excoriate a Staten Island grand jury for voting to not indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner, arguing that critics should have proper respect for the justice system.

Mr. Bratton, in a move that may irk civil rights activists like Rev. Al Sharpton, also appeared dismissive of the idea that justice could only come from a federal investigation, and not local law authorities like the Staten Island District Attorney’s office

“I’m sure everybody has their own opinion of what they saw in that video but under our system, this idea that somehow or another the only place that you can go to have a fair decision is the federal government–what’s going to happen in a few months if the federal government conducts their civil rights violation investigation and that secret grand jury comes back with a similar finding?” Mr. Bratton asked host John Gambling on AM 970 The Answer.

Mr. Bratton said he understood the “rage” and “frustration” of those who thought a white police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, should face criminal charges for placing Garner, a black Staten Island man, in an apparent chokehold that led to his death in July, but insisted the grand jury should not be attacked for carrying out their legal duties.

“As it relates to the grand jury finding, we must remember that under our system of law, that’s the entity that has seen more of the evidence, heard all of the witnesses and based on that totality, that all of that information which none of the rest of us have at this point in time–they arrived at a decision … so we really shouldn’t be criticizing the system or the jurors,” Mr. Bratton said.

He later added, “In terms of going after the grand jury–that we ask those 23 citizens to go into that room and over a course of four or five months, hear all the evidence and to the best of their ability come back with a finding, which they did, whether we agree it or we don’t agree with it.”

After a grand jury decided yesterday not to indict Mr. Pantaleo, who was videotaped holding Garner down, the U.S. Department of Justice announced they would be opening an investigation into the case, raising some hope among civil rights activists that criminal charges could still be brought against the police officer. Many local elected officials and members of Congress lined up to criticize the grand jury, but Mayor Bill de Blasio and Mr. Bratton took a different tact, expressing sympathy for protesters while expressing faith in the criminal justice system.

Mr. Bratton’s own relationship with minority communities is not as strong as Mr. de Blasio’s, despite working for a mayor who commands the overwhelming support of black and Latino New Yorkers. Mr. Bratton served under Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in the 1990s, overseeing tough policing policies that angered communities of color.

New York City on the Night of the Eric Garner Grand Jury

Thu, 12/04/2014 - 12:09

Observer photographer Daniel Cole captures the emotion of protestors in New York City the night of the grand jury decision to not indict the officer whose chokehold led to the death of Eric Garner on Staten Island. Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Manhattan, shutting down roads and attempting to disrupt the Rockefeller Center tree lighting ceremony, and the demonstration led to 83 arrests, according to the NYPD. Meanwhile, demonstrations on Staten Island were relatively quiet.

Cop Union Boss Wants Independent Prosecutors After Eric Garner

Thu, 12/04/2014 - 11:36

Ed Mullins. (Screengrab: Youtube).

Sergeants Benevolent Association President Edward Mullins today called for independent prosecutors to investigate cases of police killings of civilians in reaction to outrage over the non-indictment of a police officer in the homicide of black Staten Islander Eric Garner.

Mr. Mullins, a registered Republican whose union frequently endorses Democrats, suggested an independent prosecutor would increase public confidence in grand jury decisions. Some have alleged that local district attorneys like Staten Island’s Daniel Donovan, who presented evidence in this case, are too close to law enforcement to properly handle such cases.

“I think one of the ideas is having a district attorney who is not affiliated with that borough handle the case. That creates more integrity,” Mr. Mullins said. “I believe that’s a practice that should be considered and looked at, because it brings about a stronger public trust. What’s not to be gained by it?”

Mr. Mullins was careful not to impugn Mr. Donovan, a fellow Republican, however.

“No one wants to question the integrity of the Staten Island district attorney,” he said. “If we had an independent district attorney, would we be questioning that too? Maybe, maybe not.”

He also said he thought that all officers should be equipped with tasers to reduce the number of lethal encounters. At the same time, Mr. Mullins has also said New York is too dangerous to host the Democratic National Convention, angering Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“Every cop should have a taser. In some departments they do,” he said. “Could that have avoided everything? It could have.”

David Dinkins Calls Eric Garner Decision ‘a Damn Shame’

Thu, 12/04/2014 - 11:17

David Dinkins. (Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images)

Former Mayor David Dinkins blasted a Staten Island grand jury’s decision yesterday not to indict a police officer in the homicide of Eric Garner, but applauded the U.S. Department of Justice for its plans to open an investigation into the incident.

Speaking on the Geraldo Rivera radio show this morning, the city’s first black mayor expressed shock and anger at the grand jury’s determination that there was no reasonable cause to believe the white officer, Daniel Pantaleo, committed any crime in applying an apparent chokehold in an effort to subdue Garner, who was black, for selling untaxed cigarettes. But Mr. Dinkins expressed hope that a federal investigation announced yesterday would view the incident differently.

“I think it’s a damn shame, frankly,” he said. “I frankly am astounded that the grand jury could find in this instance no culpability. But it’s not over yet.”

Mr. Dinkins alluded to the infamous video of the fatal encounter, in which Garner can be heard repeating “I can’t breathe” with Mr. Pantaleo on his back with the cop’s forearm around his neck.

“Those of us who saw the video, I think everybody I talked to, thinks the guy is guilty of something,” Mr. Dinkins said.

The legendary Harlem politician, who once employed young aide named Bill de Blasio, called for demonstrations to continue as long as they remain nonviolent, and offered his sympathies to the Garner family.

“As long as the demonstrations are peaceful, I think they ought to continue as long as people feel the need,” Mr. Dinkins said, then directing his comments toward Mr. Garner’s wife, mother, six children and two grandchildren. “We can only hope that they will find some comfort as Dr. King used to remind us, death is not a period but a comma. So I hope that will give his family some consolation.”

‘It’s Bigger Than Staten Island': de Blasio Touts His Vision After Garner Decison

Thu, 12/04/2014 - 09:11

Mayor Bill de Blasio addresses the Eric Garner decision yesterday. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Responding directly to questions for the first time since a Staten Island grand jury voted yesterday not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner, Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a taped radio interview this morning that the Garner decision, which spurred peaceful but angry protests, is “bigger than Staten Island.”

“It’s bigger than Staten Island and the people should respect that each one of these pieces of the equation matters,” Mr. de Blasio said on HOT 97, a radio station where he gives sporadic exclusive interviews.

“When the attorney general is paying attention, that matters. When the police commissioner–and this police commissioner has devoted himself to the reform of the police department and he says, ‘We’re going to do our own internal investigation,’ that makes clear that that’s going to be an investigation that has consequences. So I do think it’s hard to have patience but people have to respect … the process,” he added.

Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat who won an election on a platform of police reform, stressed that New Yorkers needed to look at the bigger picture of the Garner outcome and not just focus on the frustration they feel about a black man once more dying in police custody. Unlike other elected officials, Mr. de Blasio restrained himself from attacking the grand jury’s decision not to indict the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, for placing Garner in an apparent chokehold that critics say led to his death in July, but said his policies–like reducing stop-and-frisks and putting body cameras on police officers–coupled with a Department of Justice investigation into the Garner case would lead to change.

In a mass email from a City Hall account sent to campaign supporters this morning (a practice that has also drawn criticism), Mr. de Blasio underscored his grander vision.

“We’ve dramatically reduced the overuse and abuse of stop-and-frisk, initiated a comprehensive plan to retrain the entire NYPD to reduce the use of excessive force and to work with the community, reduced arrests for minor marijuana possession, and given officers body cameras to improve transparency and accountability,” Mr. de Blasio said in the email.

But it’s not clear yet if Mr. de Blasio’s words or policies alone will be able ease the tension between police and minority communities. In the wake of a grand jury deciding not to indict a white police officer for shooting to death a black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., the lack of an indictment in the Garner case only seemed to inflame tensions further, riling up minority elected officials and protesters across the city.

Congressman Gregory Meeks, a Queens Democrat who represents a heavily African-American district, dismissed Mr. de Blasio’s belief that body cameras on police would solve any problems, especially since Garner’s confrontation was videotaped.

“It makes me wonder, what good is, what most of us been talking a lot about,” Mr. Meeks said at a Wednesday press conference in Washington D.C. “What good is a body camera?”

Thousands Gather in Midtown to Protest Eric Garner Decision

Thu, 12/04/2014 - 00:05

1199 SEIU members and other activists gather in Times Square (Photo: Will Bredderman).

Thousands of activists—a number of them affiliated with liberal healthcare workers union 1199 SEIU—swarmed into Midtown tonight to protest a Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner.

The demonstrations began in Union Square, Times Square and Grand Central Station, and were small at first, but soon swelled into crowds comparable to those who last week protested the decision of a Ferguson, Mo. grand jury not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown. Brown, like Garner, was black —and Mr. Wilson, like Mr. Pantaleo, is white; the deaths have stoked tensions nationwide between police and communities of color.

The activists chanted “I can’t breathe”—Garner’s last words—as well as “hands up, don’t shoot,” a rallying cry derived from disputed reports that Brown had his arms in the air when Mr. Wilson opened fire. They also shouted “black lives matter” a common protest slogan since the death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of Sanford, Fla. neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in 2012 and a refrain Mayor Bill de Blasio echoed in remarks tonight.

Aside from scores of handmade signs, many carried placards emblazoned with the logo 1199 SEIU and the phrase “Respect Human Rights.”

“It is an 1199 issue. Because 1199 is a social justice movement. We don’t just organize workers, we help out communities to move ahead, that’s our mission, that’s what we do, that’s what we’re proud of,” said union organizer Florence Johnson, who led a number of chants in Times Square

The protesters’ stated goal was to interrupt the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting, which the NYPD had pre-emptively barricaded off. Chanting “no justice, no tree,” the demonstrators attempted to outpace and outmaneuver police, zig-zagging up, down and across town trying to get closer to the iconic arbor.

On several occasions, the marchers spilled into the street and obstructed traffic, including an FDNY ambulance on Madison Avenue, in scenes reminiscent from those a week ago.

This protester, who identified himself only as Human Being, said the demonstrations were about “justice” (Photo: John Bonazzo).

The NYPD was the target of much of the vitriol, as the phrase “no justice, no peace, no racist police” made its way down the picket line.

Not everyone wanted justice for Garner–one older white man yelled, “We don’t care, go away” after this display.

A black man who identified himself only as Human Being held a sign telling his unborn son that “People will see the color of your skin before the content of your character.”

Many protesters connected the Eric Garner decision to the events in Ferguson, Missouri (Photo: John Bonazzo).

“This is not about black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Indian,” Human Being told the Observer. “This is about justice. This is about the police asking my white friend ‘What you doing with that nigger?'”

Human Being was then silenced by a police officer, who told him, “You can protest all day, just do me a favor and get down.”

Others decided to protest in large groups. Tatiana Kidd, who was marching with a group holding signs saying “Ferguson is everywhere,” said that togetherness is best at trying times for the black community.

“It gives everyone a sense of unity,” Ms. Kidd said as she and her comrades marched toward midtown. “Gathering in numbers is helpful.”

Sharpton Vows March on D.C. Over Eric Garner and Other Police Killings

Wed, 12/03/2014 - 23:21

Rev. Al Sharpton, center, said a national march over police killings was necessary (Photo: Will Bredderman).

Rev. Al Sharpton announced tonight that he will hold a march on Washington, D.C. on December 13 to protest the deaths of Eric Garner of Staten lsland, Akai Gurley of Brooklyn, Michael Brown of Ferguson, Mo. and Tamir Rice of Cleveland, Ohio at the hands of law enforcement.

Speaking from the podium at the Harlem headquarters of his National Action Network, and surrounded by the family of Garner, Mr. Sharpton said that Attorney General Eric Holder’s plan to investigate Mr. Garner’s death is not enough to combat what he described as an epidemic of police killings of blacks. Mr. Sharpton’s remarks came just hours after a grand jury decided not to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who applied an apparently lethal and prohibited chokehold to Garner. The news also comes just days after Cleveland police shot and killed the 12-year-old Rice in a park, roughly a week after a Missouri grand jury decided against pressing charges against Officer Darren Wilson for shooting Brown, and less than two weeks after NYPD Officer Peter Liang fatally shot the unarmed Gurley in the unlit stairwell of a public housing development.

“It is time for a national march to deal with a national crisis,” Mr. Sharpton said. “We’re going to bring Ferguson, Cleveland and all of New York to the nation’s capital, and say enough is enough!”

Mr. Sharpton cast aspersions on the grand jury process, which he argued relies on the efforts of district attorneys like Daniel Donovan of Staten Island and Robert McCullough of Ferguson, who are close to local law enforcement.

“We have no confidence in local, state prosecution. None. Because they that prosecute work hand in hand with the local police. They do not have the independence and lack of conflict,” Mr. Sharpton said.

He also lashed out at Mr. Pantaleo for using a neck restraint in violation of NYPD protocol and failing to heed Garner’s repeated “I can’t breathe.”

“If you are choking a man who is down, who has other police helping and hovering over him, and even if the police guidelines don’t kick in your mind, even if the law don’t kick in your mind, after 11 times of ‘I can’t breathe’ does your humanity kick in?” he said to applause.

Mr. Sharpton said the Brown and Garner families would lead the march, and that he is in the process of coordinating with Sean Combs—known for his work as a rapper and producer under the names Puff Daddy and Diddy—to organize entertainment figures. Mr. Sharpton insisted, however, that there be no violence or law-breaking at the march later this month.

“There are some that take advantage of protests. They are not the protesters. There’s a difference between activists and anarchists. Anarchists want to prove that the system can’t work. Activists are what make the system change to work,” he said. “We changed America, from the back of the bus to the White House. And we’re going to change America to where police serve the community, and not above the law but enforce the law!”

Joining Mr. Sharpton and the family onstage were a number of politicians, including Manhattan State Senator Adriano Espaillat, Manhattan Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, Manhattan Councilwoman Inez Dickens, Brooklyn Assemblyman Karim Camara, Brooklyn Assemblyman Walter Mosley, Brooklyn Assemblywoman-elect Latrice Walker and Bronx Assemblyman-elect Michael Blake.

The often controversial black activist led a peaceful, thousands-strong march in Staten Island over Mr. Garner’s death in August.

Pocket of Staten Island Protesters Attack ‘Sham’ Eric Garner Decision

Wed, 12/03/2014 - 22:24

A solitary protester outside of Richmond County Supreme Court. (Photo: Ross Barkan)

A small but exasperated group of protesters gathered on Staten Island tonight to denounce a grand jury’s vote not to bring criminal charges in the death of Eric Garner, accusing the Staten Island justice system and the NYPD of once more discriminating against communities of color.

Livid locals rallied at the Tompkinsville site where Garner, a black Staten Island man, was placed in a chokehold by a police officer in July and died. The death spurred outrage and also hope that the Republican Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan could indict the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, for allegedly killing Garner–those hopes were dashed today when Mr. Donovan announced the grand jury decided not to charge Mr. Pantaleo, a Staten Island resident, with a crime.

“Everybody saw that the man was murdered. He was begging for his life,” said Kevin Buford, a resident of the nearby Park Hill Apartments. “We know that the DA directs things the way he wants them to go. That grand jury–they should call it a sham jury. It’s not a grand jury.”

Protesters on Bay Street on Staten Island. (Photo: Ross Barkan)

Police targeted Garner for illegally selling cigarettes in the neighborhood, a gritty enclave with startling vistas of New York Bay. His resistance to arrest, caught on video, culminated with police placing him in a chokehold while he cried, “I can’t breathe!” Unlike in the highly controversial case of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Garner’s arrest was videotaped, leading some community members and elected officials to believe that an indictment was possible.

The rally tonight, which lasted several hours and never seemed to attract more than 50 people at a time, was relatively subdued, a stark contrast to the violent protests that roiled Ferguson last week after a Missouri grand jury voted not to indict a white police officer for shooting to death the 18-year-old Brown. Police descended on the borough but mostly stayed out of view–elected officials like Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Public Advocate Letitia James and Bronx Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson, the chair of the Council’s public safety committee, addressed the rally in the wet cold. News trucks, cameramen and reporters almost seemed to outnumber protesters and pols.

The rhetoric, for the people gathered at the makeshift Garner memorial on Bay Street, could be hot, but few had an appetite for confrontation or even a long march. Several shouted “fight like Ferguson” or “I ain’t worried about ISIS, I’m worried about the cops,” while many huddled solemnly on the sidewalk, the bright red-and-white awning of DeJoy’s Red Top Cars glowing above them.

“They criminalize us, and they criminalize people of color just because we’re walking down the street with our friends, just because we have our hands in our pockets,” said Marlent Ramone, a 17-year-old Staten Island student. “They don’t stop and frisk white people in Tottenville. They stop and frisk people here.”

One man blamed Mr. de Blasio and his Police Commissioner Bill Bratton for Garner’s death, accusing the Democratic mayor of appointing a top cop who once served under Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

“People who have lived in the city long enough have known what Bill Bratton means for communities of color,” said Josmar Trujillo, an East Harlem organizer with the group New Yorkers Against Bratton. “What else can you say when you brought back a police commissioner from the Giuliani days?”

At least one protester had walked from the Staten Island courthouse where the grand jury deliberated on the Garner case to the memorial several blocks away. Wearing a Guy Fawkes mask and a checked shirt, he stoically clenched a cardboard sign.

It read, “Angry Pacifist.”

‘Hell, No’ Garner’s Widow Won’t Accept Un-Indicted Cop’s Condolences

Wed, 12/03/2014 - 21:54

Esaw Garner, center, unequivocally rejected Officer Daniel Pantaleo’s condolences (Photo: Will Bredderman).

Esaw Garner, the widow of Eric Garner—the Staten Island man who died after NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo used an apparent chokehold to arrest him—angrily rejected the police officer’s sympathies tonight, just hours after a grand jury decided not to charge the cop with any crime.

Mr. Pantaleo offered the family his condolences in a statement released after the decision today, and said he felt “bad” about Garner’s death—a death a medical examiner ruled to be a homicide. Speaking from the podium at Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network in Harlem, a teary-eyed Ms. Garner lashed out at the cop, recalling the video recording of the killing, in which Garner repeatedly yelled “I can’t breathe” as Mr. Pantaleo and several other cops wrestled him to the ground to apprehend him for allegedly selling tax-free cigarettes.

“Hell, no!” Ms. Garner declared when asked if she accepted Mr. Pantaleo’s sympathies. “The time for remorse would have been when my husband was yelling he couldn’t breathe. That would have been the time for him to show some type of remorse or some type of care for another human being’s life. When he was screaming 11 times that he can’t breathe!”

Ms. Garner also voiced rage that Mr. Pantaleo has simply been put on desk duty following the incident. She said she and her family are struggling both emotionally and economically since the 43-year-old father of six and grandfather of two died in July.

“He’s still working, he’s still getting his paycheck, he’s still feeding his kids and my husband is six feet under, and I’m looking for a way to feed my kids,” Ms. Garner said. “Who’s going to play Santa Claus for my grandkids this year? Who’s going to play Santa Claus for my grandkids?”

The remarks were a sharp departure from the rhetoric the family employed the rest of the evening, which was generally restrained, and insistent upon a peaceful response to the grand jury’s decision.

“We need all your support, but we need peace throughout your support. We want you to rally, but rally in peace. Make a statement, but make it in peace. Do what you have to but do it in peace,” said Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr.

The family reiterated calls for the U.S. Attorney’s office to open its own investigation into the incident, and into the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

“I’m determined to get justice for my husband, because he shouldn’t have been killed in that way. He shouldn’t have been killed in any way. He should be here and celebrating Christmas and Thanksgiving with his children and grandchildren. And he can’t. And why? Because a cop did wrong. Somebody who gets paid to do right, did wrong and is not held accountable for it. But my husband’s death will not be in vain,” Ms. Garner said.

De Blasio Says Federal Government Will Investigate ‘Painful’ Garner Case

Wed, 12/03/2014 - 18:37

Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke tonight on Staten Island about the Eric Garner case. (Photo: Jillian Jorgensen)

Though he called it a “very painful day,” Mayor Bill de Blasio refrained from criticizing a grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner today — and said the investigation into his death is not over.

“So many people in the city are feeling pain right now, and we’re grieving again over the loss of Eric Garner, who was a father, a husband, a son, a good man—a man who should be with us and isn’t. That pain, that simple fact, is felt again so sharply today,” an emotional Mr. de Blasio said in remarks delivered at the Mt. Sinai United Christian Church on Staten Island.

The mayor’s brief speech, after which he did not take questions, came several hours after Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan announced a grand jury of 23 people declined to bring any charges against Daniel Pantaleo. Mr. Pantaleo, who is white, was captured on video this July wrapping his arm around the neck of Garner, who is black, as police sought to arrest him for selling untaxed cigarettes on a Staten Island street. Garner, who had been resisting attempts to handcuff him, shouted that he could not breathe repeatedly, before losing consciousness. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide as a result of a chokehold, a maneuver prohibited by the NYPD, and the death stoke tensions between police and communities of color in the city.

“It’s put in stark perspective the relationship between police and community. These issues come to the fore again, and we have to address them—we have to address them with all our might. We have to act,” he said.

While the grand jury’s decision means no charges will be brought against Mr. Pantaleo by local authorities, many have urged the federal government to conduct its own investigation and bring charges against the officer for violating Garner’s civil rights.

“One chapter has closed with the decision of this grand jury. There are more chapters ahead. The police department will initiate now its own investigation, and make its own decisions about the administrative actions it can take. The federal government is clear engaged and poised to act,” the mayor said.

Mr. de Blasio said he received a call from Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, whose jurisdiction includes Staten Island and whom President Barack Obama has named to replace Mr. Holder.

“They made clear that the investigation initiated by the U.S. Attorney would now move forward, that it would be done expeditiously, that it would be done with a clear sense of independence, and that it would be a through investigation,” Mr. de Blasio said.

But in addition to speaking about what lies ahead, Mr. de Blasio also spoke emotionally about the effect Mr. Garner’s death has had on the city and urging those who are upset at the decision to eschew violence for peaceful protest. He relayed wishes from Garner’s father and son that those who wanted to dignify his life should remember he was a peaceful man.

“You will not sully his name with violence, or vandalism. That doesn’t bring us closer to a better community. The only thing that’s ever worked is peaceful protest. Nonviolent social activism is the only thing that has ever worked,” Mr. de Blasio said. “People should listen to those we say we stand in solidarity with, fulfill their wishes, and work for change in the right way.”

The mayor also spoke of the pain felt by Garner’s father—saying he could feel that “things will never be whole again” for him. And Mr. de Blasio said the issue is a “profoundly personal” one for him, as the father of a black teenage son.

“Chirlane and I have had to talk to Dante for years about the dangers that he may face,” Mr. de Blasio said, even as a law-abiding young man. “We have to literally train him, as families have all over this city for decades, in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him.”

That, Mr. de Blasio said, is a painful and confusing contradiction for many across the city. But he promised change to that relationship between the police and the community had already begun, and that it would continue. But he echoed comments he made earlier this week about having to overcome “centuries of racism” at play.

“These changes will matter. They will affect millions of people. They will take time, but that is not in any way an excuse or a willingness on our part to do anything but the fastest change we can,” Mr. de Blasio said.

Staten Island Councilwoman ‘Profoundly Disappointed’ After Eric Garner Decision

Wed, 12/03/2014 - 18:35

Councilwoman Debi Rose. (Photo: Jillian Jorgensen)

Councilwoman Debi Rose, a Staten Island Democrat, said tonight she was “profoundly disappointed” that a grand jury decided not to bring an indictment against the police officer who placed Eric Garner in the chokehold that many say led to his death.

“Today, we saw hope die and wither on the vine of injustice. We were holding onto hope and once again we found that justice was denied,” Ms. Rose said. “When the decision came down, my reaction was visceral. I was shocked–I was profoundly disappointed.”

Ms. Rose, who represents the North Shore area where Garner died in July, spoke to reporters in a church less than a mile from where Garner faced off against police. Garner was placed in a chokehold, a prohibited maneuver, for allegedly selling loose cigarettes and resisting arrest. Caught on video shouting “I can’t breathe,” Garner died shortly after NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo held him down.

This afternoon, Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan, a Republican who is white, announced the grand jury had decided not to indict Mr. Pantaleo. While Mayor Bill de Blasio did not directly criticize the decision, Ms. Rose, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and other minority elected officials angrily denounced the outcome, echoing reaction that came after a grand jury decided not to indict a white police officer for shooting a black teenager in Ferguson, Mo.

Like Garner, Ms. Rose is black and black Staten Island residents expressed frustration tonight that no indictment came. Several protesters standing at the location near the Staten Island Ferry where Garner died accused the NYPD and Mr. Donovan of racism. Staten Island’s white elected officials did not blast the grand jury’s decision.

Ms. Rose stopped short of calling either the NYPD or Mr. Donovan racist, but made it clear she was furious.

“Yes, it’s okay to be angry. Yes, it’s okay to be disappointed and yes it’s okay to be shocked that even though we thought we saw what we saw, that justice looked through a different lens and didn’t confirm the injustice so many of us saw and hoped would be corrected by today’s decision,” Ms. Rose said. “We are going to pursue the Department of Justice, we are going to pursue legislative changes and we are going to work changing attitudes.”

Council Progressives Demand Federal Investigation in Eric Garner Case

Wed, 12/03/2014 - 16:43

Melissa Mark-Viverito speaking at the National Action Network headquarters earlier today. (Photo: NYC Council/Will Alatriste)

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and her allies in the Council’s dominant Progressive Caucus blasted a Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the homicide of black borough resident Eric Garner in July, and called for President Barack Obama’s Department of Justice to get involved.

Ms. Mark-Viverito labeled the 23-member civilian panel’s decision of no reasonable cause for arrest “terribly disappointing” and “not reflective of the events that led to Eric Garner’s death. She suggested the killing, which involved what many have labeled a prohibited chokehold in the effort to subdue the massive, asthmatic Mr. Garner for selling untaxed cigarettes, was part of pattern of racial killings by law enforcement across America.

“What makes this even more infuriating is the frequent lack of accountability, which is why I urge the U.S. Department of Justice to launch its own investigation,” Ms. Mark-Viverito said in a statement. “The use of excessive and lethal police force against people of color is a persistent problem nationwide and we must recommit ourselves to building a more just city and society where all people, regardless of color, are treated equally by law enforcement.”

The Council leader also called upon Mayor Bill de Blasio’s NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton to take steps to accelerate new reforms departmentwide—even as she called for peace in the streets.

“Commissioner Bratton must expedite the retraining of NYPD officers – the vast majority of whom serve our communities honorably and bravely – so we can ensure that incidents like the one that led to Eric Garner’s death never occur again,” she said. “During this painful time, it is imperative that New Yorkers come together rather than allow frustration and anger to boil over and divide us. The Garner family has asked that any demonstrations be peaceful and everyone should respect that call.”

Staten Island Councilwoman Debi Rose, a member of the Progressive Caucus who represents the area where Mr. Garner lived and died—and who is the first black woman to represent part of Staten Island—implicitly attacked Republican Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan, suggesting he may have been less than impartial during the grand jury process. She alluded to a video recording made of Mr. Garner’s killing, in which he can be heard repeatedly yelling “I can’t breathe,” and to a coroner’s report declaring his death a homicide.

“How the video of the incident clearly showing the overreaction of certain police officers to a report of a minor non-violent crime, the subsequent use of excessive force and the medical examiner’s report cannot result in an indictment calls into question the validity and fairness of the presentation to the grand jurors,” said Ms. Rose, dismissing Mr. Garner’s record of 31 arrests as immaterial. “It is imperative that the United States Department of Justice immediately conduct an independent investigation. I want to emphatically reject the idea that because of Eric Garner’s prior arrests, that it somehow allows the use of excessive force—of deadly physical force by the police against any unarmed person.”

Mr. Donovan’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The 19-member Progressive Caucus echoed many of these concerns and complaints in its collective statement to the press.

“Members feel that a major injustice has been committed and that the challenges regarding police and community relations is one in dire need of solutions. Council Members agree that the result in the case of Eric Garner’s death is another racial injustice stemming from systemic problems including institutionalized discrimination, hostile relations with public safety agents and failed police accountability,” the conference said.