Caribbean American legislators in Brooklyn have expressed outrage over a grand jury’s decision not to indict a white police officer in Staten Island in the death of a black man who died when the officer used a chokehold to restrain him.
The grand jury’s decision on Wednesday not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the killing of Eric Garner, 43, a father of six last July, comes on the heels of a similar decision last month in Ferguson, Mo in which a white police officer shot and killed a black teen, Michael Brown, 19.
Caribbean American congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, who represents the 9th Congressional District in Brooklyn, said the latest decision “defies comprehension.”
Clarke, who has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct an investigation of the killing, noted that the chokehold has been prohibited under New York Police Department (NYPD) regulations for more than 20 years.
The New York medical examiner had ruled that Garner’s death was a homicide.
Garner died from a heart attack while being arrested for allegedly selling illegal cigarettes in Staten Island last summer.
A disturbing video of Garner’s arrest went viral online, showing Pantaleo holding Garner in a chokehold prior to his death.
“We will not accept the continued devaluation of the lives of men and women who are African-American,” Clarke told Caribbean Life.
“After the killing of Michael Brown, in which the grand jury refused to indict the police officer responsible, the killing of Akai Gurley by a police officer in East New York, and similar incidents in every part of our nation, the time has arrived for us to demand reforms to law enforcement practices that are deadly for people of color,” added Clarke, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Small Business, Ethics, and Homeland Security.
Grenadian American Council Member Jumaane D. Williams, a frequent critic of NYPD tactics, said “there are no words to adequately describe how I feel tonight, but I’ve been vacillating between numbness and abject anger.
“People keep telling us to ‘stay calm’ and ‘keep the peace’, but where are justice and accountability for this life lost?” asked the Deputy Leader and co-chair of the City Council’s Taskforce to Combat Gun Violence.
“The video is there; but video or not, there is always a reason why it’s ok that unarmed Black and Brown people are killed by law enforcement,” said the representative for the predominantly Caribbean 45th Council District in Brooklyn.
He said while Dan Donovan, the Staten Island prosecutor, and the grand jury failed, the mayor and commissioner cannot fail.
“Department protocol was violated and another unarmed man is dead,” said the son of Grenadian immigrants. “Officer Pantaleo must be held accountable for killing Eric Garner, and he must be fired immediately.”
Haitian American New York State Assemblymember-Elect Rodneyse Bichotte described the grand jury’s decision as “unsettling.”
“My heart and prayers are with the Garner family, Mr. Garner’s community, and the men and women who again are left wondering how our justice system works after today’s decision,” said Bichotte, who will be sworn in January as the representative for the 42nd State Assembly District in Brooklyn.
“Though this is not the end of the story on Mr. Garner’s death – Officer Pantaleo still faces internal discipline in the NYPD and the family can still bring a civil suit against the NYPD and the city – the grand jury’s decision closes the door on one path that Mr. Garner’s family had sought for justice and closure over his death,” she added.
But Bichotte said while many will want to protest the grand jury’s decision, “we owe it to our communities, our families and our children to make our voices heard in a constructive and peaceful manner.”
“While we face a watershed moment of asking ourselves the unavoidable questions, ‘when is enough, enough? When will we see real reform and real redress for the losses our communities have suffered?’ progress, as always, starts with an honest dialogue between our community and the NYPD,” she said. “It is the first step in our ability to work hand-in-hand with each other.”