Today, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) remembers Eric Garner, a 43-year-old African-American father, husband and son. Two years ago, New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo placed Mr. Garner in a banned chokehold as he tried to arrest him on suspicion of selling loose cigarettes. Mr. Garner died later at a Staten Island, NY hospital. His death brought renewed national attention and awareness to police violence that many in the African-American community have endured and discussed for decades. Mr. Garner’s final words, “I can’t breathe” captured on a cellphone video and transmitted to millions of people around the world, have become a rallying cry for protestors against police violence across the nation.
“Our thoughts are with Mr. Garner’s family members as they continue to wait for the officers involved in his death to be held accountable,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of LDF. “His death was tragic and horrifying and serves as a stark reminder of the threat posed by aggressive policing of non-violent, low-level offenses in communities of color.”
Despite the New York City medical examiner ruling Garner’s death a homicide, saying the chokehold killed him, a state grand jury declined to bring charges against Officer Pantaleo. A federal inquiry began after the grand jury failed to indict Pantaleo. In February 2016, the LDF sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Lynch urging her to expeditiously and thoroughly complete the federal investigation into Mr. Garner’s death. The federal probe is still pending.
In the past two years, LDF, which is an organizational member of Communities United for Police Reform, have worked to promote unbiased and responsible policing practices, including filing litigation to end racial and ethnic profiling of public housing residents by NYPD officers, and successfully urging Governor Cuomo to issue an Executive Order requiring the investigation of police-involved deaths by the New York State Attorney General.
“Eric Garner’s death reminds us that we must come together and work to promote unbiased and responsible policing policies and practices to ensure that police-involved violence in communities of color stops today,” said Jin Hee Lee, LDF’s Deputy Director of Litigation.
Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.