The Rev. Al Sharpton gave a sermon Sunday calling on faith leaders to take action following the death of a Staten Island man placed in a chokehold by an NYPD officer last week.
Sharpton, taking the pulpit at the historic Riverside Church in Manhattan, called faith leaders to action, citing national outrage in the video-recorded death of Eric Garner, 43, who died Thursday as police attempted to arrest him on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes.
He asked why, according to the video footage, police officers involved continued to pin Garner down and keep him in a chokehold as Garner repeatedly gasped, "He can't breathe."
"Even if police procedure doesn't kick in, when does your sense of humanity kick in?" he said.
Sharpton compared the police treatment of Garner to that of Ernest Sayon in 1994, who also died in police custody in Staten Island. The mayor at the time was Rudy Giuliani, and the NYPD commissioner was William Bratton, Sharpton said. The mayor now is Bill de Blasio, and the commissioner again is Bratton, he noted.
"There's a lot different 20 years later," Sharpton said. "Yet, we will see if a lot remains the same."
One difference between then and now is that there's video footage of Garner's confrontation, Sharpton said.
After the church service, Sharpton told reporters that he was newly outraged by a second widely circulated amateur video that showed police officers did not rush to revive an unconscious Garner. "Is that the kind of city we're living in now?" he asked.
Sharpton said Garner's widow and mother were doing as well as could be expected and did not come to church in part because they're preparing for the Wednesday funeral.
The civil rights leader said he was not angry that de Blasio left for vacation in Italy on Saturday, two days after Garner's death, adding that the mayor's postponement of his trip by one day showed he took the incident seriously. It is now up to Bratton and prosecutors to investigate the other cops involved, Sharpton said.
While in Rome on Sunday, De Blasio told reporters he was glad he stayed in New York an extra day, saying he believed Staten Island leaders are taking appropriate actions "in a very difficult circumstance" and that a "thorough investigation" will be conducted.
De Blasio was "briefed by senior administration officials" Sunday morning with updates on the NYPD investigation into Garner's death and "continued engagement with community leaders, elected officials and clergy members," his spokeswoman Marti Adams said.
The NYPD on Saturday identified Daniel Pantaleo as the officer who put Garner in the chokehold and said he had been placed on desk duty.
Sharpton held rallies in Harlem and Staten Island on Saturday with Garner's grieving family.
The police department has been under fire since an amateur video showed officers attempting to arrest Garner on Thursday on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes. On Saturday, de Blasio's allies said the case would show whether he can deliver on campaign rhetoric to change the NYPD.
De Blasio, who rode to electoral victory on a wave of deep dissatisfaction in black and Latino communities about their treatment by police, called the video "very troubling." It shows an officer coming from behind to put Garner in a chokehold banned years ago by the NYPD, and Garner's head being slammed to the pavement. He is heard repeatedly whimpering, "I can't breathe."
Garner was adamant that he did not want to be arrested.
De Blasio spoke on Saturday with Garner's widow, Esaw Garner, and mother, Gwen Carr, said mayoral spokeswoman Marti Adams.
"He reassured the family that the city is doing everything possible to ensure a full and thorough investigation," Adams said.
"The issue is not whether one was selling cigarettes," Sharpton said. "The issue was how an unarmed man was subjected to a chokehold and the result is he is no longer with us."
Garner's funeral is to be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Bethel Baptist Church, on Bergen Street in Brooklyn.
De Blasio and Bratton said that a final determination of any violation of the law would come after an investigation by the Staten Island district attorney. But Saturday, Sharpton suggested that undue influence by the police union could undermine an inquiry. "I have very serious questions," he said.
Douglas Auer, a spokesman, sent a statement from District Attorney Daniel Donovan: "My office is working along with the NYPD to do a complete and thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mr. Garner's death."
The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association blasted the decision to place Pantaleo on desk duty as "a completely unwarranted, knee-jerk reaction for political reasons and nothing more."
With Robert Brodsky