Did callous New York paramedics and police leave Eric Garner to die? It’s a disturbing question being asked by civil rights activists, witnesses and Garner’s wife and family. And it’s a question that deserves a swift answer. Garner died last week in Staten Island during an arrest in which a New York police officer placed Garner in an outlawed choke hold — — a deadly tactic that has been prohibited by police for 20 years.
Last Sunday, Rev. Al Sharpton, who has aggressively called for justice in Garner’s death, preached at Riverside Church in New York and said: “None of them said, ‘Let’s stop. He can’t breathe.’ ’’ Sharpton will also speak at Garner’s funeral on Wednesday where he likely repeat his call for justice.
“Even if police procedures don’t kick in, when does your sense of humanity kick in? Have we gotten so cold?” Sharpton asked.
It’s an important question to ask. I don’t know what’s in the hearts of the cops who left Garner in anguish on the sidewalk or the paramedics who apparently ignored protocol by not administering oxygen to Garner and not immediately placing him on a stretcher. Garner died at the hospital.
But here’s the bottom line: No one – not the police or the paramedics – showed any compassion for Garner. Police didn’t believe that Garner was legitimately struggling to breathe during his arrest and paramedics failed to treat him properly. In an awful video taken by an eyewitness, Garner, 43, a 400-pound diabetic who also suffered from asthma, can be heard saying repeatedly that he can’t breathe while at least four other police officers bring him down.
According to the The New York Daily News, Garner then apparently loses consciousness.
The video shows the officer who choked Garner using his hands to smash Garner’s face into the sidewalk. A noted pathologist, Dr. Cyril Wecht, told The New York Daily News that Garner could have lived had he received appropriate medical care at the scene or had anyone simply lifted him off the sidewalk and placed him in a sitting position.
That’s a shame. And if Wecht is correct, it’s also criminal.
“Why is no one doing CPR?” a witness at the scene asks. “Now they’re trying to get him an ambulance, after they harassed and slammed him down,” a woman taking the video says. “[The] NYPD harassing people for no reason, he didn’t do anything at all.”
The police officers involved displayed a coldhearted disregard for life. Did police and paramedics disrespect Garner because they considered him a lowly black suspect? Or were they just overzealous and incompetent? Either way, Garner’s untimely and suspicious death is a tragedy that should be thoroughly investigated.
For now, the police officer who put Garner in a choke hold, Daniel Pantaleo, was stripped of his gun and badge and placed on modified duty, and the four emergency workers who responded to the scene in Staten Island were also put on modified duty pending an investigation.
But Garner’s son, Eric Snipes, 18, said he wants to see Pantaleo behind bars. Meanwhile, police said Garner has been arrested 31 times since 1988 on charges such as drug possession, selling untaxed cigarettes and assault. He was last arrested in May for selling untaxed cigarettes, court records show. Since 2009, he was arrested nine different times for selling illegal cigarettes.
Police claim Garner became irate during questioning and needed to be subdued. But Garner did not have a weapon, and, after I reviewed the video, I didn’t see any indication that Garner posed a serious threat to police. Pantaleo has a history, too. The eight-year veteran has been the subject of two lawsuits that alleged violations of police procedures and false arrest.
In one case, two Black plaintiffs won a settlement of $15,000 apiece after winning their case that they were falsely arrested and strip-searched. Their charges were dismissed. Sharpton is making sure there will be a thorough investigation. Garner’s death is a tragedy and the fact that another black man has died during an altercation with police in New York is a travesty.
His family needs answers and deserves justice.
What do you think?