The video below is at the centre of the Eric Garner case that is tearing America apart. There has been two nights of protests across major US cities because a grand jury in New York failed to charge any of the police officers involved in Garner’s death.
Be warned: The video is upsetting. It shows clearly several officers grabbing Garner by the neck and suffocating him to death. Garner, who was arguing with the police but had not been violent, pleads with the officers, saying “I can’t breathe.” That phrase has become the protests’ main slogan.
The video shows two officers from New York Police Department (NYPD) arresting the 43-year-old man from Staten Island. Garner died after being held in a chokehold, as the manoeuvre is called.
Here is a recap of the whole case:
The action took place on 17 July at about 5pm. The following date two policemen, Justin Damico and Daniel Pantaleo, were put into custody.
On December 3, a grand jury in Staten Island ended the case against the officers by deciding not to proceed against the policemen who made the arrest. This triggered the wave of protests in New York and the rest of the US
The case took place on a sidewalk at 202 Bay Street in Tompkinsville, Staten Island.
Eric Garner was being questioned for selling untaxed cigarettes. After the police confront him, he argues with them and is suddenly placed in a chokehold by Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who grabbed Garner by the neck and forced him to the ground. Chokeholding is banned by the NYPD. Garner suffered a cardiac arrest and was transferred to the Richmond University Medical Center, where he was declared dead about one hour after the encounter with the police.
Garner, 43, was a father of six with multiple previous encounters with the police. His criminal record included more than 30 cases dating back to 1980. Garner weighed more than 350 lbs (160 kg), which may have contributed to the stress on his heart. The BBC interviewed one of Garner daughters, you can watch it here.
The two officers involved are Justin Damico and Daniel Pantaleo, who confronted and blocked Garner before the arrival of other policemen. Of the two, Pantaleo, 29, performed the chokehold. In the video above, he is wearing a green t-shirt with a 99 stamped in yellow on the back because he was operating in plainclothes that afternoon. Pantaleo has served in the NYPD for eight years.
Garner was chatting with his friend Ramsey Orta, 22, when the police stopped him. Orta filmed the whole encounter and posted it on YouTube. TIME Magazine interviewed Orta five days after Garner’s death. Orta was arrested for carrying weapons on August 3.
After the case exploded, NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio vowed a full inquiry. On Wednesday, Officer Pantaleo was cleared of all charges, effectively closing the case.
Protesters are blaming the NYPD for murdering an American citizen in broad daylight for a minor offence. Those who support the police say that Garner first tried to resist the arrest, and nothing would have happened if he had agreed to follow the cops.
The death echoes a similar case in Ferguson, Missouri. In that town, an a 18-year-old unarmed black man, Michael Brown, was fatally shot by Officer Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014. Wilson was also cleared by a grand jury on November 24.
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