After more than a year of silence, the Department of Justice is reportedly presenting evidence to a federal grand jury in the case of Eric Garner, who died at the hands of a plainclothes NYPD officer almost two summers ago. With Mayor Bill de Blasio seeming more comfortable with police officials than ever before, some activists and families of police victims look to the feds for justice.
Still, doubts about federal intervention abound. The parents of Ramarley Graham and Mohamed Bah have rallied outside of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s Manhattan office, demanding he charge the cops who shot and killed their loved ones. Jewel Miller, the mother of Garner’s youngest daughter, held a protest in front of the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn last week.
Miller wants the Justice Department to move more quickly and also to relinquish its request that the NYPD hold off on internal action concerning NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who put Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold, until a federal investigation is complete. NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton has claimed that departmental action (like firing Pantaleo) is on hold at the request of Attorney General Loretta Lynch. In this regard, the feds are not helping the family’s demands to have Pantaleo fired.
But barring the possibility that the Justice Department’s Garner probe might lead to some broader agenda, federal intervention may not provide much fundamental change anyway. Unlike in Ferguson, Missouri, where the department has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city for rejecting federally mandated reforms, New York and the NYPD face no such scrutiny. In fact, the feds may be too close to the NYPD to be trusted as overseers of cops. Not only has the Justice Department often avoided bringing charges against cops who’ve killed unarmed citizens, it also has declined to investigate obvious cases of NYPD racial and religious profiling, like the department’s previous Muslim surveillance program.
Federal authorities simply might not be the conduits for justice that many of us would like them to be. This is especially true without strong protest pressure, which has largely died down.
Josmar Trujillo is a trainer, writer and activist with the Coalition to End Broken Windows.