Outside the Pantaleo hearing

Daniel Pantaleo's disciplinary hearing for the NYPD officer's involvement in the death of Eric Garner brings up memories of past events for observers. 
Daniel Pantaleo’s disciplinary hearing for the NYPD officer’s involvement in the death of Eric Garner brings up memories of past events for observers.  Photo Credit: Corey Sipkin

One of the people waiting for the end of Day 2 of NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo’s disciplinary hearing was 72-year-old Clarence Canty Jr.

“A black cop couldn’t get away with that,” he said, referring to the 2014 death of Eric Garner after Pantaleo put him in an apparent chokehold whose extent is now being debated. Chokeholds have been banned by the NYPD for years, with limited exceptions.

Pantaleo is facing punishment ranging from docked vacation days to dismissal from the NYPD. Canty, who identified himself as a Brooklyn community activist, had come by to see what happened at the hearing, though he wasn’t hopeful about seeing punishment.

He sat on a bench outside 1 Police Plaza leaning on a tall umbrella planted into the ground, a makeshift walking stick. He had a few thoughts on police-community relations and local civic affairs that verged toward the conspiratorial, but soon he wasn’t alone.

A black man walking by paused to ask Canty what the crowd was for. Canty told him, and the man, Samson Jackson, nodded slowly. He stopped.

Canty asked him whether he was familiar with Harlem. He was.

“The leading black clergy, where are they?” Canty asked. Jackson didn’t know.

“The one you have to investigate is the kid in Queens who got all that time,” said Jackson. He was referring to Chanel Lewis, who confessed and then recanted to the 2016 murder of Karina Vetrano in Howard Beach. Lewis’ first trial ended in a hung jury. He was convicted at the second. His lawyers have said his confession was coerced.

“He got the raw deal,” said Jackson. “We know how that area is.” Howard Beach was the site of a racial murder in 1986.

Sometimes the years can seem to blend together, more so when Garner’s mother left police headquarters, where the disciplinary hearing is taking place. She was joined by the mother of Anthony Baez, who died after an interaction with an NYPD officer in 1994 in a similar situation to Garner’s. Chokeholds were banned then, too. That was some 20 years ago.

Inside, lawyers debated whether Pantaleo had actually used a chokehold on Garner and whether it was illegal. Was the move actually a seat belt maneuver, as his lawyer said? Or a move that met “the definition of a chokehold,” as a recruit training officer alleged on Tuesday? An interaction with roots in the assumption that Garner was selling loosie cigarettes.

The proceedings will continue. When they end and the judge’s recommendation is made, Police Commissioner James O’Neill will ultimately decide whether Pantaleo stays or goes.

A difference between now and the past is that Pantaleo’s actions and his arm around Garner’s neck as Garner is dragged to the floor can be seen on cellphone video accessible just about anywhere with an internet connection. Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, said she had tried not to look at the video in the hearing room — walking out of the room, or looking the other way.

She said the hearing had been “very, very hard for me” and added that she wanted Pantaleo to be fired: “There is no other option.” A Staten Island grand jury declined to indict on criminal charges, and it has been silence so far from the feds.

There was a group of reporters on hand to hear Carr and supporters speak. There were tourists asking quiet directions of the half-dozen police officers on duty. Some people on their lunch breaks wandered over to see what the commotion was. Somebody tried to bum a cigarette. And then there were a few people like Canty, now leaning against his unused umbrella near Carr’s makeship podium, punctuating the speakers’ words with his own “that’s right, that’s right.”

“I hope you come every day,” Carr said to those who had assembled. “Because I will be here every day.”

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