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“I Can’t Breathe”: NYC March over Chokehold Death of Eric Garner Protests Police Violence Nationwide

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On Saturday, thousands marched in Staten Island, New York, to protest the death of Eric Garner, who died on July 17 after police placed him in a chokehold and then pinned him to the ground. At the march, demonstrators chanted “I can’t breathe!” referring to the 11 times Eric Garner said that as he was held down by New York City Police Department officers. Many have called for the officers in the case to be brought to justice. The death of the 43-year-old African-American father of six has sparked a larger national debate about the NYPD’s use of excessive force and its policy of cracking down on low-level offenses. It also comes as demonstrations have erupted nationwide over other police killings of unarmed men. The protesters in Staten Island chanted “Hands up, don’t shoot!” in solidarity with the people of Ferguson, Missouri, who are protesting the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown. “We need to show the community that these police officers need to be disciplined and they need to be sentenced, for all that they caused,” says 12-year-old Imani Morrias. “They caused so much pain.”

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StoryAug 05, 2014New York Police Killing of Eric Garner Spurs Debate on Chokeholds & Filming Officer Misconduct
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: On Saturday, thousands marched in Staten Island, New York, to protest the death of Eric Garner, who died on July 17th after being placed in a police chokehold, as he was repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe.” The death of the 43-year-old African-American father of six has sparked a larger national debate about the New York Police Department’s use of excessive force and the illegal police chokehold. Many called for the officers involved in the case to be brought to justice. Democracy Now! was in Staten Island on the scene.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re heading to the beginning of the march, which will take place where Eric Garner was killed in an illegal police chokehold. But as we walk the streets of Staten Island, you can see that most of the stores are closed up, though this would be a busy Saturday afternoon. We’re going to that corner.

ERICA SNIPES GARNER: I’m Erica Snipes Garner. I’m the daughter of Eric Garner.

AMY GOODMAN: How old are you?

ERICA SNIPES GARNER: I’m 24. My dad was a loving man, he was a humble man, and he was a nice man. Like, he was very nice. I mean, you could never get a “no” out of him. Like, he did whatever he could for anybody who came around him. Anybody who came around him was, you know, touched by his graces. Seeing the videotape, I was very traumatized. I was very, like, horrified. It was horrible. Just seeing my father die on national TV was just horrible. You know, I’ve got to live with this forever.

AMY GOODMAN: What does it mean to see so many people, more than a thousand people, out today?

ERICA SNIPES GARNER: My father’s voice is being heard, and, you know, we’re standing as one. Everybody’s coming together for the right cause.

AMY GOODMAN: This is the site where Eric Garner died in an illegal police chokehold. There is a makeshift memorial here with candles and posters, right at the Bay Beauty Supply Shop here in Staten Island. Some of the posters say, “Bust Pantaleo now,” one of the police officers involved with his killing, “Justice for Eric Garner.” And just a few feet from here, we can see Ramsey Orta and his wife, Chrissie Ortiz. Ramsey held up his cellphone and filmed what happened to Eric Garner right here. They don’t want to talk today. But after the coroner’s office declared it a homicide, Ramsey Orta was arrested, and then, so was his wife, Chrissie. There are more than a thousand people here—haven’t begun to count—awaiting the march and the rally to honor Eric Garner and make the connections between Eric Garner’s death here in Staten Island at the hands of police and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

PROTESTERS: Hands up! Don’t shoot! Hands up! Don’t shoot!

AMY GOODMAN: “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” That chant that’s repeated in almost every protest in Ferguson has become a mantra here in Staten Island, as well. Thousands make their way from ground zero on Bay Street, where Eric Garner died after police officer Daniel Pantaleo put him in an illegal chokehold. People also chanted and held signs that said, “I can’t breathe,” referring to the 11 times Eric Garner says this as he lay on the ground under the officers. And there were other signs in the crowd.

And what’s your name?

IMANI MORRIAS: Imani Morrias.

AMY GOODMAN: How old are you?


AMY GOODMAN: What does your sign say?

IMANI MORRIAS: It says, “No justice, no peace. Rest in peace, Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, all the fallen soldiers.”

AMY GOODMAN: Did you make that yourself?

IMANI MORRIAS: Well, I had some help from my sister. So, we need to show the community that these police officers need to be disciplined, and there needs to be a sentence for all that they caused to Mike Brown’s family and Trayvon Martin’s family and Eric Garner’s family. They’ve caused so much pain.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: My name isn’t important. I’m hurting. That’s why I’m out here. I was marching 50 years ago, and I’m still marching for the same thing. And it hurts. It hurts.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think we’ve made any progress?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Not enough. Not enough. Not when you see things like this, when you hear things like this—Ferguson and Staten Island. No. It just makes your heart bleed. It really does. It really does.

MICHAEL “OG LAWTABON: My name is Michael “OG Law” Tabon. I’m pulling a 20—excuse me, a 34-foot cape that says, “Police of America, fight hate with love. Evil plus evil never equals good.” And it’s the longest petition cape in the world. Shout out to Guinness. It’s the love team.

JASMINE DE SILVA: Jasmine De Silva. I live right around the corner from here, so I actually knew Eric Garner. My family knew him very well.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you do here in Staten Island?

JASMINE DE SILVA: Well, I just live in Staten Island. I go to school at John Jay Community College in the city, and I work in Brooklyn Heights.

AMY GOODMAN: You go to school at John Jay College of Criminal Justice?


AMY GOODMAN: So what do you learn there in relation to what you’re protesting about today?

JASMINE DE SILVA: We learn a lot, especially about NYPD. They have policing classes, so they do teach us about the background and how it started and how it is today and the best ways to try to change it.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you discussed the Eric Garner case at John Jay?

JASMINE DE SILVA: Well, school hasn’t started yet for the semester, so I’m pretty sure that will be a very big topic once school starts.

AMALA LANE: My name is Amala Lane, and I’m a member of Morningside Meeting, which meets in Riverside Church. And Quakers have a long history of nonviolent civil resistance, civil disobedience, and we stand for the protection of civil rights.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s your name?

ANIYA: Aniya.

AMY GOODMAN: How old are you?

ANIYA: Thirteen.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you hope to accomplish with this protest?

ANIYA: To live until I’m 18 and not get shot. You want to get older. You want to experience life. You don’t want to die in a matter of seconds because of cops.

AMY GOODMAN: Live to 18 and not get shot—the simple wish of a 13-year-old girl. She’s one of thousands of protesters who were marching against the police killing of Eric Garner. They walk past the Staten Island District Attorney’s Office, and the rally begins. The Reverend Al Sharpton introduces Eric Garner’s widow.

REV. AL SHARPTON: I want Esaw and the mother. This is the widow and mother of Eric Garner.

ESAW GARNER: I don’t even know what to say. I don’t even know what to say. Like, thank you so much for your support, from me, my mother-in-law, my children, my grandchildren. We miss him so much. I don’t even know what else to say. I just want to thank everybody for taking the time out to come out and support me and get justice for my husband.

EMCEE: We have a retired police officer who’s here in support of what we’re doing, and at this time I want to bring Carlton Berkley to the stage.

CARLTON BERKLEY: But we say to the good cops, when you stand by and let them bad cops do and tarnish the NYPD, you’re just as bad as the rest of them, and all of you should be held accountable! And one other thing I want to say. And one other thing I want to say. The reason why we want all of the cops in Eric Garner’s case to be held accountable and arrested is because when our kids are outside, and there’s a group of them, and one decides to do something, they always grab the other four and charge them with acting in concert. So in Eric Garner’s case, when those cops stood by, and he said 11 times, “I can’t breathe,” and they did nothing, they’re held accountable, too! And we want them arrested!

CONSTANCE MALCOLM: Hello, everyone. My name is Constance Malcolm. I’m the mother of Ramarley Graham. The Staten Island DA should not be prosecuting this case. We don’t want the same mishap that happened in the Bronx when they dropped the ball in Ramarley’s case. We can’t have that to happen. We need the feds to come in and take this case right now. We need accountability. We need some—we need these officers to pay the price for what they did to her son.

EMCEE: Our next speaker is the U.S. congressman from Brooklyn, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES: As a congressman, if I wasn’t on the floor of the House of Representatives, if I wasn’t in my office in Capitol Hill, if I wasn’t in a suit and tie, and I ran into the wrong police officer, simply because I’m a young black man in America, he might think that I’m a lawbreaker, but it turns out I’m a lawmaker. And about 10 days ago, six members of the United States Congress from New York—Charles Rangel, José Serrano, Nydia Velásquez, Greg Meeks, Yvette Clarke and myself—wrote a letter to Eric Holder, urging that the Department of Justice get involved and investigate the case of Eric Garner and the NYPD, because of their broken windows policing strategy.

REV. AL SHARPTON: The mother of Amadou Diallo, Madame Kadiatou Diallo.

KADIATOU DIALLO: We have to stop this. Too much, too much pain, too much struggle, too much tears, too many tears. Too many victims—Sean Bell, Ramarley Graham, Mohamed Bah and many other victims—have fell victim on the police force who’s supposed to serve and protect. We need a national conversation that will continue to go on.

REV. AL SHARPTON: The one and only former governor of the state of New York, David Paterson.

DAVID PATERSON: This is the 25th anniversary of the unfortunate murder of Yusuf Hawkins. This is also the 50th anniversary of a terrible crime committed by a policeman when he shot a 15-year-old boy named James Powell in Harlem. It started the Harlem riots. I want you to know that there was a case 72 years ago, in the summer of 1942. The summer of 1942 is when my father was pistol-whipped in front of all his neighbors at age 16 by a police officer for no reason at all. And he went on to become Basil Paterson, who was the first African-American secretary of state and deputy mayor of New York.

REV. AL SHARPTON: May I bring on the president of the United Federation of Teachers, Michael Mulgrew.

MICHAEL MULGREW: It is time to teach. I want you all to say it. It is time to teach.

CROWD: It is time to teach.

MICHAEL MULGREW: It is time to for us to follow the wishes of this great family and say we want this death to come to something good for all of us and all of our communities. It is time to teach. So, are we committed here to teach the country?


MICHAEL MULGREW: Are we committed here to teach our city?


MICHAEL MULGREW: And are we committed always to teach our children that it can always get better?


MICHAEL MULGREW: We stand with you, because we all understand we can always make things better. Thank you all very much.

AMY GOODMAN: That last speaker, Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers. The UFT and SEIU both supported the protest and came under fire from the New York police unions for agreeing to participate in the rally. When we come back, Talib Kweli in Ferguson. Stay with us.

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