Mayor Bill de Blasio was interrupted by chants of “Fire Pantaleo,” the NYPD officer accused of causing Eric Garner’s death, during his opening remarks at the second Democratic presidential debate in Detroit Wednesday evening.
Just two weeks before the debate, the Department of Justice announced it would not bring civil rights charges against Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who is accused of placing Garner in an illegal chokehold on Staten Island in 2014.
Garner’s family and community activists have called on the mayor to fire Pantaleo and criticized him for not doing so sooner.
“We could not sit silent while @NYCMayor Bill DeBlasio misrepresented his positions on Stop and Frisk and continues to employ the police officers who killed #EricGarner, in particular Daniel Pantaleo,” tweeted Tamika Mallory, one of the five people who came from New York to protest at the debate.
Mallory said she and the four others, Kirsten John Foy, Mysonne Linen, Angelo Pinto and Linda Sarsour, chanted during de Blasio’s statement and then “went back to enjoying the debate.” But when police officers “forcibly removed” them, they chanted again, which happened while New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker was speaking.
De Blasio, who has polled around 1 percent in recent polls, was later asked during the debate why Pantaleo was still on the force. The mayor said the DOJ told the city it “could not proceed” while the federal investigation was underway, a reason he has given before.
“There’s finally going to be justice, I have confidence in that, in the next 30 days in New York,” de Blasio said. “Because for the first time, we are not waiting on the Federal Justice Department.”
The mayor has said that is up to NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill to make the decision to fire Pantaleo, but critics argue de Blasio has the power to pressure O’Neill and he has not used it.
When asked in the debate if she thought de Blasio’s answer was adequate, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said “no.”
“No, he should be fired. He should be fired now,” she said. “If I was the mayor, I would fire him.”
In a tweet, de Blasio thanked the protesters.
“To the protestors in the audience today: I heard you. I saw you. I thank you,” he wrote. “This is what democracy looks like and no one said it was pretty.”