Just two days after the seventh anniversary of Eric Garner’s death at the hands of NYPD officers on Staten Island, petitioners held a virtual court proceeding to push for a judicial inquiry Mayor Bill de Blasio and other top city officials over potential civil rights violations.
Garner’s dying words, “I can’t breathe,” have been heard at police brutality protests for over a half decade since he was killed on July 17, 2014, during an arrest in Staten Island after officer Daniel Pantaleo placed him in a prohibited chokehold. Pantaleo was ultimately fired by the NYPD, but cleared of criminal charges.
However, Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, is still seeking to hold the city’s top officials accountable to ensure those words don’t fade over time.
The lawsuit argues that there has been a lack of transparency by de Blasio and the city overall regarding documentation, and a lack of disciplinary action taken against other officers complicit in Garner’s death.
Many feel the reasoning for even stopping Garner — selling loose cigarettes, which ultimately led to the deadly arrest attempt — still remains blurred, and the facts of the case and the decisions that were made following it are even further muddled.
Carr and fellow petitioners are calling the proceedings a disgrace, feeling that justice has still not been served after Garner’s murder, which the mother feels set the stage for the world to witness the cruelty of police brutality even before the now-infamous murder of George Floyd.
“It was a speedy trial with Chauvin, but I also think that it was because of Eric Garner that the stage was set for the George Floyd trial and Chauvin trial because the people were so aware of what happened to my son,” Carr said. “Remember: My son’s case was worldwide. Everyone knew who Eric Garner was, or who Eric Garner is, and when George Floyd was murdered the stage was already set. The world had already seen how cruel people can be to us. How cruel America is. It was just another uprising but with that uprising they did take action, where with my son they didn’t and this is why I have to continue to keep the doors open.”
While justice was rather swift in the Floyd case, Carr had to wait five years for Pantaleo to be removed from active duty. Carr says that after these efforts, the Mayor and Police Commissioner shut the door on the case, but she is continuing to push that door open.
On July 15, Appellate Court Justice Anil C. Singh allowed the Garner family and petitioners to formally question the NYPD, former NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill, and the de Blasio administration’s involvement in the case.
Following this decision, legal representation for the Garner family and petitioners joined a virtual conference Monday morning with Justice Erika M. Edwards in which an argument was made to order top officials, such as the mayor and former top cop to testify in the case.
While Justice Edwards had some reservations on whether the Mayor and Commissioner had direct involvement in the case, she provided a written order for the city’s legal representatives to provide the documents requested within the next 30 to 40 days. She stated that she hopes to have a decision regarding witnesses by July 23.
Additionally, Justice Edwards aims to have another court proceeding on Oct. 25, with two prior discussions set for the status of the discovery on Sept. 13 and Oct. 12.
In response to these witness requests during the court proceeding, attorney Stephen Kitzinger shared that the mayor, deputy mayor, and police commissioner should not be asked to be witnesses since they were not directly involved in the day-to-day decisions for the Garner case.
“The issue here is the alleged failure to investigate officers involved other than Officer Pantaleo. The duty here was the alleged failure to investigate the alleged leaks of medical history, and criminal history, likewise the alleged failure to provide medical care. The mayor, the first deputy mayor, the police commissioner would not be personally involved in that,” Kitzinger said.
Additionally, Kitzinger stated that the petitioner’s arguments lack credibility and passes the statute of limitation of 18 months.
“It appears the desire to have the high-ranking officials testify is not for transparency but for spectacle, and the court shouldn’t countenance that,” Kitzinger said.
Petitioners dismissed these claims and responded that the only spectacle being made is seven years of denying the pursuit for clarity. They state that the lack of transparency and accountability is typical of the Mayor de Blasio administration to provide a shroud around the NYPD, protecting the department through obscurity, citing cases such as the Bronx police-involved shooting of Ramarley Graham in 2015.
“The whole world witnessed him being murdered, there is no real accountability. Hopefully, now we will have our day in court,” Carr said.
amNewYork Metro reached out to the Mayor’s office for comment.