Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer who killed Eric Garner in 2014 by using an illegal chokehold, was fired Monday and stripped of his pension benefits. The decision came more than five years after Pantaleo held Garner, an unarmed African-American man, in a chokehold until he dropped to the ground. Before dying, he gasped “I can’t breathe” 11 times. Despite outcry from the family and community members, Pantaleo had remained on the police force on desk duty since the killing. Last month, on the fifth anniversary of Garner’s death, the Justice Department declined to charge Pantaleo with a crime despite calls by the Garner family and their supporters that the city punish him and other officers involved. Over the years, Garner’s case has helped drive the Black Lives Matter movement for police accountability. His family is continuing their fight for justice, calling on the New York City Police Department to fire the other officers involved in Garner’s death, and vowing to block any appeals made by Pantaleo’s attorney. We speak with Eric Garner’s youngest daughter, Emerald Garner.
AMY GOODMAN: Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer who killed Eric Garner in 2014 by using an illegal chokehold, was fired Monday and stripped of his pension benefits. The decision came more than five years after Pantaleo held Garner, an unarmed African-American man, in a chokehold until he dropped to the ground, gasping “I can’t breathe” 11 times.Despite outcry from the family, Pantaleo had remained on the police force on desk duty since the killing. In a dramatic news conference, New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill announced his decision to finally fire Pantaleo.
COMMISSIONER JAMES O’NEILL: In this case, the unintended consequence of Mr. Garner’s death must have a consequence of its own. Therefore, I agree with the deputy commissioner of trials’ legal findings and recommendations that it’s clear that Daniel Pantaleo can no longer effectively serve as a New York City police officer. In carrying out the court’s verdict in this case, I take no pleasure. I know that many will disagree with this decision, and that is their right. There are absolutely no victors here today — not the Garner family, not the community at large and certainly not the courageous men and women of the police department, who put their own lives on the line every single day in service to the people of this great city.
AMY GOODMAN: Police Commissioner O’Neill’s firing of officer Pantaleo comes two weeks after a police administrative judge found him guilty of violating a department ban on chokeholds. Until Monday, Pantaleo had remained on the police force on desk jury. A New York grand jury decided in 2014 not to charge him. Last month, on the fifth anniversary of Garner’s death, the Justice Department declined to charge Pantaleo with a crime despite calls by the Garner family and their supporters that the city punish him and other officers involved. Over the years, Garner’s case has helped drive the Black Lives Matter movement for police accountability.
At a rally outside police headquarters, Eric Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, vowed Monday to fight any appeals Daniel Pantaleo’s attorney Stuart London says he plans to file, and called on the New York City Police Department to fire the other officers involved in Garner’s case.
GWEN CARR: It’s just disheartening to go through this. And like we said, we’re not finished. We have other officers that we have to go after. You have heard the names. We know the wrongdoing that they have done. … Show the pictures, say the names, do the roll call, because they all need to lose their job. New York is not safe with officers out here like that.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Eric Garner’s mother speaking Monday.
For more, we’re joined by his youngest daughter, Emerald Garner.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
EMERALD GARNER: Morning.
AMY GOODMAN: It can never be said enough: Our condolences on the death of your dad.
EMERALD GARNER: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Your response to what happened yesterday, to the firing of Daniel Pantaleo?
EMERALD GARNER: It somewhat puts my family at ease, because although it took five years, it’s like, you know, it should have happened a long time ago, but we’re grateful that it’s happened now, that finally someone sees what we see.
AMY GOODMAN: So, he has been fired, but he has not been charged with a crime.
EMERALD GARNER: Right. He’s still free.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what this means?
EMERALD GARNER: Well, for me, this means that if we, you know, follow the proper channels, we can have the case reopened, and he will be tried as a civilian and not as a police officer.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you mean.
EMERALD GARNER: Meaning like, you know, when — in this process, he had the union, who would represent him, his union reps and everything. But when you’re not a police officer anymore, you don’t have union reps; you’re a regular New York City civilian just like everyone else. So, he should be charged as someone who wasn’t wearing a shield would be charged if they would have murdered Eric Garner.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about the New York Police Department judge who recommended that Pantaleo be fired, saying he was “untruthful” and the account of Eric Garner’s death was “implausible and self-serving.”
EMERALD GARNER: Absolutely. All of the testimony was a bunch of lies. What they said on 7/17 was not what she said at the trial, the CCRB trial. And I do believe that if the CCRB trial never happened, we would never know a part of the investigation, the text messages and basically the cover-up.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to the mayor of New York City. I want to turn to Bill de Blasio, speaking yesterday, now a Democratic presidential candidate, responding to the firing of Pantaleo.
MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: We must devote ourselves to this simple goal: that no person, no family, no community should ever go through the agony that we’ve all experienced here over these last years. It should never happen again, in this city or this country. That is the only goal that is acceptable. Let this be the last tragedy.
AMY GOODMAN: Emerald, your response to the mayor?
EMERALD GARNER: Mayor de Blasio, I think that we have a lot of work to do. You know, like, I still will feel like — you know, I’m forever going to feel like he had the power to fire the cop from day one. So, you know, all of this is just the aftereffect. We have been asking for him to be fired for five years, and Mayor de Blasio had the power to do that, and he chose not to.
AMY GOODMAN: He says he had to wait for this investigation. He says he had to wait first for the Justice Department to bring charges, and then for the police department, within their own department, to make a decision.
EMERALD GARNER: I feel like people have choices. I feel like I would like to see the proof. I would like to see a document that said that you had to wait for the federal judge to do what they were supposed to do.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me go to Patrick Lynch, the head of New York’s police union, condemning the decision to fire officer Pantaleo. He spoke at the news conference Monday, where he stood in front of an upside-down NYPD flag.
PATRICK LYNCH: It’s absolutely essential that the world know that the New York City Police Department is rudderless and frozen. The leadership has abandoned ship and left our police officers on the street, alone, without backing. … There is no confidence — no confidence — in the leadership at City Hall and One Police Plaza. We are following up that with a call to the governor to have the mayor removed from office for malfeasance and nonfeasance. He abandoned his post. He refuses to do his job and has joined the anti-police rhetoric that we already know got two police officers killed, now has caused the street to disrespect our uniform and the women and men wearing it.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Patrick Lynch, head of New York’s police union. Your response, Emerald?
EMERALD GARNER: So, he’s saying that de Blasio left the police officers out on the street alone. Eric Garner was left on the street to die. And that’s on video. So, if they’re saying that the mayor abandoned them and they’re so angry that a police officer broke the rules and got penalized for it, that’s really what the problem is. The problem is they never thought in a million years that this cop would be fired because of a black man. And I think that’s honestly what they thought. And the fact that he is fired, it makes them upset, because it’s like, “We’ve been getting away with it for so long, so who are you to tell us to stop doing what we’re doing?” And that’s just how I take the whole situation, because a wrong was done. Like, at some point you have to stop and say Eric Garner was killed for no reason. He could have been saved. They neglected to save him.
AMY GOODMAN: You’ve been pushing for Eric Garner’s law. What is that?
EMERALD GARNER: The Eric Garner law is basically banning the chokehold and any other terminology used to describe anything other than a chokehold. So, what was basically said there in the trial was that it was a “seatbelt maneuver” or a “seatbelt technique.” And it’s like, you know, a chokehold is a chokehold. You can’t call it anything other than a chokehold. The medical examiner ruled it a chokehold. The judge ruled — basically said a chokehold. And in the press conference that London did after the last — after the judge made the ruling, he called it a chokehold. So, I mean, like, he took it back, but he already said it. He said, “Chokehold — I mean, seatbelt maneuver.” So he called it a chokehold himself. So, they know exactly that this is a chokehold. And the Eric Garner law will put into place that federally and locally you will be banned from using a chokehold, and if you are, you’ll be immediately terminated and prosecuted.
AMY GOODMAN: Your family, Emerald, has been fighting for justice since the day that Eric Garner was taken down in this chokehold, on July 17th, five years ago. We came up in the elevator together.
EMERALD GARNER: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And I was looking at your T-shirt, which is a picture of your older sister Erica.
EMERALD GARNER: She’s not here to see this.
AMY GOODMAN: Erica sat in that seat where you are, a number of times.
EMERALD GARNER: Yeah, she did. And I was just like — you know, when you guys reached out to me, I was like, you know, that’s Erica’s place. That’s her place at home. And she was not here to see this. And it’s important for me to make sure that people remember that she is the real warrior for justice. She is the real lioness of the family. She was the one that led the charge. It was because of Erica that the CCRB even had a trial, because she was pushing for it so hard.
AMY GOODMAN: The Civilian Complaint Review Board.
EMERALD GARNER: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Erica died in 2017 after an asthma-induced heart attack, four months after giving birth to her second child, your nephew.
EMERALD GARNER: My nephew, also on the back.
AMY GOODMAN: And there’s a picture of him on the back.
EMERALD GARNER: I don’t know if you guys can see the back, but there the kids — the children are on the back, so a now 10-year-old and a soon-to-be 2-year-old. He’ll be 2 on Sunday.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I wanted to go to Erica, then 27 years old, speaking on Democracy Now! in 2016.
ERICA GARNER: I’ve protested. I’ve spoke on panels. I traveled across this nation. I exhaust all avenues. I even endorsed Bernie Sanders to get my message out. And it’s like we keep having a conversation I exhausted for two years. And, you know, how much talking do we need to have? The Black Lives Matter movement been very compassionate, patient, and basically begging the nation. You know, we are under attack as black people. We are being gunned down every day. And these officers are not being held accountable. And no charges, from Tamir Rice to my dad to Freddie Gray, you know, has been.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Erica Garner, then 27 years old. Emerald, I know it’s hard to contain yourself watching your sister.
EMERALD GARNER: Yeah. That was unexpected, but yes.
AMY GOODMAN: You are also 27 now.
EMERALD GARNER: Yes, I’ll be 27 in December.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the journey your family has been on since the horror of that day in Staten Island, when the police killed your father?
EMERALD GARNER: it’s been superhard. You know, between interviews and going out to speak and stuff like that, it’s like you’re reliving the moment multiple times, and you’re like doing it over and over and over and over again. And at one point, I was just like, you know, I feel like I’m traumatizing myself over and over and over again by talking about it, but then I realize, like, if I don’t talk about it, nobody is going to know about it. Like, people don’t know about the things that you don’t talk about. So, I think that it’s great that, you know, a lot of people are talking about it, keeping up the momentum.
Like, you know, it’s hard to — like, people forget. Like, you know, there was a point where the cameras went away, and, you know, all of the protests and everything pretty much went silent. And it was like, after all of that happens, I’m still a human being. I’m still dealing with the loss of my sister and the loss of my father, the loss of my father’s stepfather. And it’s like, you know, it’s just losses all around. And it’s like sometimes, you know, when am I going to stop taking losses? And I feel like we didn’t take a loss when Commissioner O’Neill decided to fire Pantaleo. I feel like we got the W instead of the L.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about the other officers involved with that moment, the killing of your father?
EMERALD GARNER: We will be seeking the same process, which is to have CCRB, Civilian Review Board, bring up a trial against those officers and bring out the evidence from their testimonies and their statements from the day they pretty much killed my father or let my father be — let him be killed.
AMY GOODMAN: And your message to Mayor de Blasio?
EMERALD GARNER: I don’t — I don’t think I even have any more messages for Mayor de Blasio, because at this point it’s like you dropped the ball, and it’s like there’s no — there’s no getting around it. Like, you absolutely dropped the ball.
AMY GOODMAN: The debate that — the last presidential debate —
EMERALD GARNER: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: — people protested in the debate hall in Detroit.
EMERALD GARNER: Yes. And I was very happy for that, like my phone was blowing up, like, you know, “Did you hear that your father’s name is being called at the debate? Did you hear them say, 'Fire Pantaleo'?” And I was like, you know, I feel like that made a stand, because I’m one person. I can’t be everywhere. So, if someone else can go somewhere and make some noise, I’m happy for it. I appreciate it a lot, because I’m only one person.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, you are one person who has done such an enormous amount, and I think it would have also made your older sister, Erica Garner, so proud. I want to thank you very much for being with us, Emerald Garner —
EMERALD GARNER: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: — the daughter of Eric Garner, African-American Staten Island resident who was killed five years ago this summer by New York City police officers. Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer who killed Garner by using an illegal chokehold, was fired Monday and stripped of his pension benefits.
When we come back, we go to Portland, Oregon, where hundreds of right-wing protesters rallied in the streets this weekend. They were escorted by police and outnumbered by counterprotesters. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “I Can’t Breathe,” sung by Eric Garner’s sister, Ellisha Flagg.