Today marks the fifth anniversary of the day the words “I can’t breathe!” shocked the city and resonated across the nation.
On July 17, 2014, NYPD officers including Daniel Pantaleo approached Eric Garner, a 43-year-old father of six outside Staten Island’s Tompkinsville Park.
What happened next has been viewed by millions, via video shot by Garner’s friend Ramsey Orta: Pantaleo appeared to put Garner in a chokehold while the police wrestled him to the ground as he screamed he was being suffocated.
In December 2014, a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo for allegedly using the fatal chokehold on Garner, whom cops said was suspected of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.
Thousands of people immediately took to the streets, shutting down Times Square and later bridges and highways. Protests spread around the nation, helping galvanize the then-nascent Black Lives Matter movement less than four months after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
On Tuesday, federal investigators who examined whether Garner’s civil rights were violated announced they would not seek charges. That set off fresh condemnation from his family and their supporters, who planned 11 days of protest.
Meanwhile, Pantaleo, who recently faced an internal NYPD probe, is awaiting word on whether he’ll be booted from the force.
The images below document one family’s struggle amid a larger, ongoing campaign for reform, in New York and beyond:
Protesters immediately poured into the streets after word that Pantaleo would not be indicted by the Staten Island grand jury.
Demonstrations carried into a second day after the grand jury decision. Some people marched over the Brooklyn Bridge carrying black coffins representing people killed by officers, before ending up at Barclays Center.
Garner’s daughter Erica continued to lead actions. She took part in a “die-in” protest in Union Square on Martin Luther King Day in 2015.
Erica Garner passed away at age 27 in December 2017 after suffering a heart attack brought on by an asthma episode.
A giant banner with Eric Garner’s image was unfurled in Union Square on April 14, 2015, during a national day of action against police brutality.
Pantaleo was still on the force , serving modified desk duty, when his administrative NYPD trial began in May, 2019.
Activists demanded the officer be fired while they shouted over Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch on June 5.
Lynch continued to defend Pantaleo, yelling over demonstrators that “the maneuver that was used was proper and taught in our police academy.”
Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, attended every day of the trial and spoke passionately about her quest for justice.
“It’s a hard process. Me and my family have been going through this for five years. We have to sit through this and hear the nonsense and hear the negative reviews from people on the outside,” Carr told THE CITY. “But I’ve learned to sidecheck brick walls because you’re going to run into them.”
The trial ended June 6 and Pantaleo now awaits a decision by NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill on whether he’ll lose his job.
Meanwhile, the Department of Justice on Tuesday declined to bring federal civil rights charges against Pantaleo. The decision was announced the day before the fifth anniversary of Garner’s death.
Carr spoke with reporters in the sweltering heat about her disgust with the decision and vowed to keep pressuring Mayor Bill de Blasio to fire Pantaleo. “We want him to stand up and be the mayor he’s supposed to be,” she told THE CITY.
After standing for over an hour in the sun, she was helped up the steps of City Hall.
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