City Council members highlight Eric Garner case by reciting ‘I can’t breathe’ at stated meeting

Several City Council members donned shirts emblazoned with Eric Garner's final words -- "I can't breathe" -- in a show of solidarity against police violence at a Council hearing on Tuesday. Photo Credit: William Alatriste

The demonstration was in response to the Justice Department’s decision last week to not charge the officer accused in Eric Garner’s death.

Several City Council members donned shirts emblazoned with Eric Garner's final words -- "I can't breathe" -- in a show of solidarity against police violence at a Council hearing on Tuesday.
Several City Council members donned shirts emblazoned with Eric Garner’s final words — "I can’t breathe" — in a show of solidarity against police violence at a Council hearing on Tuesday. Photo Credit: Buzz Nation

More than two dozen City Council members used a stated meeting at City Hall on Tuesday to speak out about the Eric Garner case and highlight incidents of police brutality and shootings of unarmed minorities.

Twenty-six members came to the meeting wearing T-shirts that read “I can’t breathe” in light of the Department of Justice’s decision last week not to charge Officer Daniel Pantaleo in Garner’s 2014 death. During the head count, each of the present members read off one name of an unarmed civilian killed by police officers over the years, including Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell. Each name was followed by the phrase “I can’t breathe.”

When City Councilwoman Debi Rose read Garner’s name she said “I can’t breathe” 11 times, the same number of times Garner made his plea in the videotaped confrontation with police officers on Staten Island.

The Rev. Jacqueline Lewis, of the Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village, also joined in following her invocation. Lewis lay on the floor of the chambers and in a whisper recited the words “I can’t breathe” as council members looked on.

Several Council members who didn’t wear the shirts, including City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, noted their solidarity with the other members. Johnson said he was outraged over the federal government’s decision to drop the Garner case and called on the mayor and NYPD to fire Pantaleo.

"This is another slap to the face to his mother, Gwen Carr, and his entire family," he said. “Simply put, those responsible for the death of Eric Garner should be held accountable.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio has repeatedly said he would let the NYPD’s departmental hearing play itself out before making any decision regarding Pantaleo’s badge.

Ivan Pereira