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New York Police Killing of Eric Garner Spurs Debate on Chokeholds & Filming Officer Misconduct

StoryAugust 05, 2014
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Image Credit: New York Daily News

After a New York City medical examiner rules homicide in the death of Eric Garner at the hands of police, we look at the growing concern over the use of police chokeholds and a new attempt to hold officers accountable by defending a citizen’s right to videotape their actions. On July 17, New York City police placed Garner, an African-American father of six, in a chokehold after they confronted him for selling single cigarettes known as “loosies.” Graphic video of the incident shows an officer pulling Garner to the ground by the neck and then holding his head against the pavement. He repeatedly says that he cannot breathe. Garner’s family and supporters have called for criminal charges against the officer and a federal civil rights investigation. Chokeholds like the one that killed Garner have been banned under NYPD’s excessive force guidelines for more than two decades. But today, the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board will meet to address more than 1,000 chokehold complaints against officers in recent years. We are joined by two mothers whose sons were killed by New York City police officers: Iris Baez and Kadiatou Diallo. We also speak to civil liberties attorney Norman Siegel and his client, Debra Goodman, a retired legal secretary who filed a lawsuit against the City of New York after she was arrested for filming police in an incident last year.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AARON MATÉ: Homicide—that’s what a medical examiner ruled in the death of Eric Garner. On July 17th, police in Staten Island placed Garner, an African-American father of six, in a chokehold after they confronted him for selling single cigarettes, known as “loosies.” Graphic video of the incident shows an officer pulling Garner to the ground by the neck and then holding his head against the pavement. He repeatedly says he cannot breathe.

POLICE OFFICER 1: Put your hand behind your head!

ERIC GARNER: I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!

RAMSEY ORTA: Once again, police beating up on people.

POLICE OFFICER 2: Back up. Back up and get on those steps.


AMY GOODMAN: Eric Garner’s family and supporters have called for criminal charges against the officer and a federal civil rights investigation. Chokeholds like the one that killed Eric Garner have been banned under the NYPD’s excessive force guidelines for more than two decades. But today New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board will meet to address hundreds of chokehold complaints against officers in recent years.

AARON MATÉ: Well, just one day after Garner’s death was ruled a homicide, the man who filmed his death was arrested on weapons charges. Ramsey Orta says he’s been harassed by police since his video emerged. All of this has raised the question of what right citizens have to film police officers on the job to ensure accountability.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by two mothers whose sons were killed by the New York City Police Department. Iris Baez’s son, Anthony Baez, died December 21st, 1994, after an officer placed him in a chokehold. The officer was acquitted of criminally negligent homicide but later convicted on federal civil rights charges and sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison. Joining us from Washington, D.C., Kadiatou Diallo. Her son, Amadou Diallo, was killed February 4th, 1999, when police fired 41 bullets at him, striking him 19 times, as he stood outside his apartment reaching for his wallet for his keys. The officers were acquitted of murder charges. Both Diallo and Baez have been supporting Eric Garner’s family since his death.

We’re also joined by Norman Siegel, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union for 15 years, now in private practice. He’s representing Debra Goodman, a retired legal secretary who filed a lawsuit against the City of New York after she was arrested for filming as police officers watched emergency medical technicians speak with a woman in a wheelchair.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Norman Siegel, I want to start with you, because it is this story of the video—I mean, this weekend the news comes out of the ruling of homicide—you know, Eric Garner, Staten Island man, standing in front of a store when the police move in on him. They had a very different story in their report. They said that—they never mentioned chokehold. They said he was in no distress. But this video shows something very different. This young man, Ramsey Orta, just stood there filming and shows the entire encounter. And this is what has led to an outcry across this country. But he, after the homicide ruling, is then arrested. Talk about the significance of this, of being able to see what took place.

NORMAN SIEGEL: Oh, it’s crucial. Without the video, the Eric Garner story would be totally different. We’ve seen it over and over again, the police version and the people’s version. And the beauty of the video is that it speaks to the truth, and it becomes difficult for the people in power, especially law enforcement, to spin the story. And therefore I encourage and urge people all across this country, take out your smartphone, and when you see police that you believe are violating someone’s civil rights, record it. And then the story will be different, and then maybe we can get accountability, finally, over law enforcement.

AARON MATÉ: Well, Debra, you did this. You filmed police last year.


AARON MATÉ: And you were arrested. Can you tell us your story?

DEBRA GOODMAN: Yes. I was coming out of the subway, and I crossed the street, and I noticed a woman who appeared homeless, in a wheelchair, talking to a couple of EMT guys.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re a legal secretary?

DEBRA GOODMAN: I was a legal secretary; I’m retired now. And so, I noticed this woman talking to two EMTs, and I walked a little bit further, and I saw three police standing by a police van. So I walked a little bit further, about 10 feet past them, and I just turned around and began to film what was going on. And as I was filming, as I was attempting to film, an officer approached me, and he held his smartphone up as if he was going to film me. And I tried to explain to him that he didn’t have that right, because he was a police officer on duty, and I had the right. And then we had some words, and he asked me for some ID. And I knew I wasn’t doing anything wrong, so I refused. And he told me I was under arrest, grabbed my wrist, put handcuffs on me, threw me in the van like a piece of meat—a police van—and I was detained for approximately 25 hours, including going to Central Booking and other places in shackles and handcuffs behind my back. And because I have had a lot of tissue removed due to breast cancer surgery, having the handcuffs behind my back caused terrible pain. And I mentioned this several times, and nothing was done about it. And then, you know, approximately 25 hours later, I was arraigned. And I had to appear at criminal court five separate times, at which times I was offered the same thing. And I didn’t want to plead or take any deal. And so, finally, after five visits to criminal court, the charges were dismissed.

AMY GOODMAN: How many states—in how many states is it actually illegal to film the police, Norman Siegel?

NORMAN SIEGEL: Well, it’s really confusing. We have, in the federal system, trial courts, court of appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. The First Circuit, which is based in the Northeast; the Seventh Circuit, which is Midwest; and the 11th Circuit, which is the Southeast—Florida, Alabama and Georgia—those courts have said there is a constitutional right to do what Debra did. The Third Circuit, New Jersey, Pennsylvania; Fourth Circuit, Virginia, North Carolina, that area—they say no. So Debra’s case that we filed—

AMY GOODMAN: So, states are saying—and states also, in legislation, are saying it is not legal on the police, unless the police consent?

DEBRA GOODMAN: Well, a lot of the states haven’t addressed the issue. In the absence of law, saying you have a right, there’s usually not a right. In New York, for example, our Second Circuit has not addressed this issue, and therefore Debra’s case could be very important, and maybe historic, because maybe it winds up eventually in the U.S. Supreme Court, because there’s the division between the circuits, and then usually the U.S. Supreme Court gets this. People say to me, “Well, but the Supreme Court is conservative.” I think everyone—liberals and conservatives—support the right of people to record the police when they’re interacting with people, providing that they don’t interfere with the police doing their job.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to the two mothers of victims of police violence in New York. Iris Baez, your son Anthony, it was December 21st, 1994. Describe what happened to Anthony in the Bronx. You were at your house? He was—

IRIS BAEZ: No, I was in Florida. My husband was in the house. And that night, they were going to go to Florida, so they had all the suitcases in the front of the house. And they found a football, so the four brothers decided to play with—you know, a little touch game.

AMY GOODMAN: Your four kids.

IRIS BAEZ: Four, the four boys. And they went downstairs, and they started playing. And then, one of the ball—one of them threw the ball over David and hit the patrol car in the—it hit the floor.

AMY GOODMAN: A patrol car was parked along your property, because—

IRIS BAEZ: Yes, they always park there. They hang out there. They do their stuff there. And, you know, they do their stuff there. And the football hit the patrol car in the bottom. Henry said it hit—it ricocheted from the floor and hit the patrol car. Mind you that Livoti at the time—

AMY GOODMAN: Livoti is the New York City police officer, Francis X. Livoti.

IRIS BAEZ: Livoti is the—that committed the murder. He was being monitored by his sergeant. He’s supposed to be driving the sergeant around, because he should not have any contact with anybody in that neighborhood.


IRIS BAEZ: Because he was abusive and because he was a PBA delegate to become a higher-up in the PBA.

AMY GOODMAN: In the union, the police.

IRIS BAEZ: So he was very protective. And when the ball hit the patrol car, Livoti got out, and he told him to get away from the block. And then he said, “But we live here. This is the only house in the block.” So then they moved up and kept on throwing the ball. So he went back in the car, but then he got out again, and he told them, “Get out,” you know, to get out. And then he put David in the patrol car. He handcuffed David and put him in the patrol car.

AMY GOODMAN: Your younger son.

IRIS BAEZ: My 16-year-old at the time. Then Anthony said, “But what are we doing? We’re not doing nothing. We’re not bothering nobody.” Then, there was a black jeep that my other son had. And he threw him, pushed him against the jeep. And then, when his body ricocheted back, that’s when he put the chokehold on him. And then they were screaming. They they were calling my husband. So my husband came down. In underwears, he came down. And then my husband said, “Why are you doing this? Why? He’s a sick man. You’re hurting him. He got asthma.” So—

AMY GOODMAN: Your son Anthony has asthma.

IRIS BAEZ: My son Anthony had—he had asthma when he was younger, but he outgrew it. So, my husband was telling him to stop. And then he said, “So, if he has asthma, what the F— is he doing playing football?” And then—it is ironic. And then, so, he kept on, and then when Anthony fell to the floor, at that time, there was another patrol car coming, and it stopped. And in that patrol car that came last was Daisy Boria, the policewoman that said that nothing went down the way they were saying it went down, because, don’t forget, the police got 48 hours to fix the story, make it happen the way they want.

AMY GOODMAN: Before they have to testify. So—

IRIS BAEZ: Before they testify to everything.

AMY GOODMAN: This police officer, this female police officer, said what the police were saying was not true.


AMY GOODMAN: That your son, Anthony, had died in this chokehold.

IRIS BAEZ: Yes. She said that Livoti choked him. And then there was no CPR. There was no ambulance called. They dragged his body into the car like an animal and threw him in the back seat of the car. Mind you, my husband was saying he’s a sick man, he has asthma. Nobody gave him CPR at the time.

AMY GOODMAN: Kadiatou Diallo, you have been through this many times. You’re the mother of Amadou Diallo, the young West African immigrant killed by New York police in a hail of bullets February 4th, 1999, in front of his own house. Nineteen of the bullets hit him. You attended the funeral of Eric Garner. Your thoughts today? The officers in your son’s case were all acquitted of the killing, from the Street Crimes Unit, although the New York police, after the killing of Amadou, disbanded what was called the Street Crimes Unit.

KADIATOU DIALLO: [inaudible] 1999—

AMY GOODMAN: I’m sorry. Can you start again? Sorry, we didn’t hear you.

KADIATOU DIALLO: I was saying it’s a bittersweet moment for me when I attended the funeral for Eric Garner, because we have been there many times over and over again. When my son was gunned down in his own vestibule, he was doing nothing wrong. And that night, no one called 911 saying that any crime was being committed, has been committed that night. They just came with their guns drawn and just executed my son. My family and the community at large called for changes. It seems to me that call has not been answered, because we keep on seeing many victims of the same similar cases, and even different cases.

What is different this time, Amadou did not have a video to show, or Anthony Baez or many other victims. But this time, as Norman just said, we have this video that enlightened the world to see really the aggressivity and the brutality that these cops did against Eric Garner. I have to say, though, if the NYPD and the law enforcement at large want to help the communities to reduce crime and prevent innocent death from happening, we have to seize this moment and study this video and use it as a way to make—improve the quality of their work, and even maybe to call on police officers to have new technology equipment that it can carry so that they can document their conduct while apprehending people in the neighborhood.

AARON MATÉ: Norman, the chokehold that was used on Eric Garner, it’s banned under police policy, but have the police done enough to ensure that it’s not applied?

NORMAN SIEGEL: Absolutely not. From 2009 to 2013, 1,022 complaints about chokeholds were filed with our Civilian Complaint Review Board. Where was the CCRB? Where was the former police commissioner? Where was the former mayor? There should have been an outrage over the fact that something that was banned under all circumstances, complaints of 1,022? Someone missed doing their job. And I think we have to press for absolute adherence to prohibitions on chokeholds.

AMY GOODMAN: Should police wear cameras?

NORMAN SIEGEL: It’s really tricky. I know the progressive community is saying that, but the cops are not going to be able to turn it on and off, because they’ll turn it on and off when there is a favorable interaction. So are they going to be able to have surveillance 24/7? Is there going to be a database of all of us congregating and assembling? You could have a very Orwellian 1984 scenario in New York City and America. What I say to people: Think through that advocacy of having cops have cameras on their uniforms.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to continue this conversation after the show, and I want to encourage people to let people know about this conversation and to weigh in yourselves by writing to us at I want to thank Iris Baez, mother of Anthony Baez; Kadiatou Diallo, mother of Amadou Diallo; Debra Goodman, arrested for filming the NYPD; and Norman Siegel.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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