New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio issued a statement on Wednesday responding to a grand jury’s decision not to indict a white NYPD officer who apparently used a chokehold on an African-American man during an arrest last July. The man, Eric Garner, subsequently died. In his statement de Blasio urged people upset by the decision not to engage in “violence and disorder.”
De Blasio described Garner’s death as a “a terrible tragedy that no family should have to endure.” He also noted many New Yorkers hoped to see the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, indicted and encouraged them to protest peacefully.
“This is a deeply emotional day — for the Garner Family, and all New Yorkers. His death was a terrible tragedy that no family should have to endure,” de Blasio said, adding, “Today’s outcome is one that many in our city did not want. Yet New York City owns a proud and powerful tradition of expressing ourselves through non-violent protest. We trust that those unhappy with today’s grand jury decision will make their views known in the same peaceful, constructive way. We all agree that demonstrations and free speech are valuable contributions to debate, and that violence and disorder are not only wrong — but hurt the critically important goals we are trying to achieve together.”
The announcement Pantaleo would not be indicted came just over a week after a grand jury in Missouri announced it would not indict Darren Wilson, a white police officer who shot and killed an unarmed African-American man in the city of Ferguson last August. After Wilson was not indicted, there were violent protests in Ferguson as well as other demonstrations around the country, including in New York.
A bystander captured dramatic mobile phone video of Garner being taken into custody. It showed seven officers subduing him as Pantaleo seemingly put an arm around his neck. At one point Garner could be heard saying, “I can’t breathe.”
De Blasio, a Democrat who was elected last year, made police reform a focus of his campaign. In his statement he pointed to many of his efforts on this front including several policy changes and the appointment of a new NYPD commissioner, Bill Bratton.
“These goals — of bringing police and community closer together and changing the culture of law enforcement — are why we have introduced so many reforms this year. It starts at the top with Commissioner Bratton – a strong, proven change agent,” said de Blasio. “We have dramatically reduced the overuse and abuse of stop-and-frisk. We have initiated a comprehensive plan to retrain the entire NYPD to reduce the use of excessive force and to work with the community. We have changed our marijuana policy to reduce low-level arrests, and we have launched a new pilot program for body cameras for officers to improve transparency and accountability.”
De Blasio claimed these “long term reforms” would “ensure we don’t endure tragedies like this one again in the future.” He also noted the grand jury investigation is just one component of the official response to Garner’s death.
“We also know that this chapter is not yet complete. The grand jury is but one part of the process,” de Blasio said. “There will still be an NYPD internal investigation. And we know the US Attorney is continuing her investigation. Should the federal government choose to act, we stand ready to cooperate.”
De Blasio concluded with a quote from a legendary civil rights leader.
“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — one of our nation’s most profound thinkers on these issues — taught us something very simple: ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,'” said the mayor. “The problem of police-community relations and civil rights is not just an issue for people of colour — or young people — or people who get stopped by police. This is a fundamental issue for every American who cares about justice. All of us must work together to make this right — to work for justice — and to build the kind of city — and nation — we need to be.”
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