The NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund roundly condemns the non-indictment of Staten Island police officer Daniel Pantaleo. In a horrifying display of police brutality, captured on video, Officer Pantaleo choked Eric Garner to death while trying to arrest him for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. The vicious act was captured on videotape as onlookers, including other civil servants, watched the unresisting Garner repeatedly gasp for air and clearly state that he could not breathe. The decision not to indict is yet another miscarriage of justice following the recent decision of a grand jury in Ferguson, MO not to indict the officer responsible for the shooting death of unarmed teen Michael Brown.

The Staten Island grand jury today concluded that there was not probable cause to send Officer Pantaleo’s to trial for killing Eric Garner, despite the fact that the New York City Police Department’s patrol guide has clearly and unequivocally prohibited the use of ‘any pressure to the throat or windpipe which may prevent or hinder breathing to reduce intakes of air’ for over two decades.   This decision, combined with the rash of police killings of unarmed African-Americans nationwide, powerfully underscores the national urgency of Mr. Garner’s statement to Pantaleo before Garner died:  “This stops today.”

Statement of President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill

“America can no longer hide from the reality that we have a true crisis on our hands. The failure to address these fatal incidents and racial bias in policing threatens to erode the remaining trust that African Americans have in our justice system. This is a very serious moment. Young people and grassroots organizers are already showing leadership. We now need a stronger display of leadership at the national, state, and local levels, and across all races, to engage this issue forcefully and without equivocation.”

Statement of Director of Litigation Christina Swarns

“This decision is extremely disappointing and personal to me because I grew up in Staten Island and am very familiar with the location where this incident occurred. The grand jury’s decision calls into question whether justice is a reality or just an ideal in America, especially for African-American men who continue to be targeted by law enforcement. It also calls into question the use of “broken windows” policing in New York City and painfully showcases the consequences that ensue when officers engage in confrontational police tactics. We are calling for both local, state, city and federal action to investigate how such a heinous attack on a civilian using a practice barred by the city could occur. It also raises the threshold for proving murder to an unprecedented level where a victim who is not resisting arrest can literally be choked to death with no consequences.”

Eric Garner now joins Akai Gurley, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Ramarley Graham, Anthony Baez, Mohamed Beh, and countless others on the painfully long list of Black men who have been senselessly killed by law enforcement officers in New York and throughout the country. Unless and until comprehensive corrective action is taken, the pervasive perception that African-American lives are not worthy of law enforcement protection will destroy the integrity of law enforcement and hinder its ability to effectively ensure public safety.

LDF therefore urges the following steps toward reform:

  • New York City Mayor, Bill de Blasio, and New York City Police Commissioner, Bill Bratton must immediately scrutinize and correct the training, policies and practices of the New York City Police Department and end the so-called “broken windows” policing policy — which prioritizes the enforcement of minor, quality-of-life crimes, like the sale of untaxed cigarettes — that led to Mr. Garner’s death;
  • The United States Department of Justice should open an investigation into the use of force policies and practices of the NYPD and, specifically, the killing of Eric Garner; and
  • Communities of color must organize to counter police brutality, to positively transform the culture and character of the New York City Police Department, and to end discriminatory police practices across the country.

Every person and every community is entitled to fair and appropriate police protection.  And no one –including a police officer — is above the law. The blatant disregard for the fact that Black lives matter must “stop today.”