Today I want to talk to you about a case that we shouldn’t have to still be talking about. But I’ve long since learned that the only justice we get in this country is the justice that we fight for ourselves.
Just this past week, it was revealed that the NYPD’s Chief Surgeon, Eli Kleinman, determined that Eric Garner was never choked, and therefore was not actually choked to death. And that’s strange, because nearly 100 million people watched a video of an NYPD officer literally choking Eric Garner to death. Based on Dr. Kleinman’s report, I was wondering if he was going shock the world by telling us all that Eric Garner is actually still alive and that the body we saw at his funeral is not actually that of Eric Garner.
And the attorneys for the man who murdered Eric Garner, celebrated this report with glee, claiming that it fully exonerates Officer Daniel Panteleo. And it’s about the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen or heard.
First, I had no idea that the NYPD had a Chief Surgeon until now, but I can tell you this much, he must be blind and he is damn sure the dumbest surgeon I’ve ever heard in my life. I don’t know if he still performs surgeries or nowadays he’s just in the business of lying for a living, but that he could actually form his lips to say that Eric Garner was never choked should be enough for him to lose his medical license.
It’s outrageous. And so many people are to blame that we even need to have this conversation – and that the family of Eric Garner is still fighting for justice, and that the case is still open, five years after his murder.
The county medical examiner deemed his death a homicide and said that it was caused by “compression of the neck in the form of choke hold, as well as compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.” One of the most respected medical examiners in the world also reviewed the autopsy and confirmed its original findings that Eric Garner was choked to death.
As I say this to you, I am staring at a still picture of officer Daniel Pantaleo, with a brutal choke hold locked around Eric’s neck, with the muscles in Pantaleo’s arms bulging as he squeezed Eric Garner’s neck tighter and tighter.
Is it the opinion of Dr. Eli Kleinman that Eric Garner was going to spontaneously combust on the day of his death no matter what and that it just so happened that Eric died with the arms of Daniel Pantaleo tightly wrapped around his neck, but that he was going to die at that day, at that time, at that exact moment, no matter what? Because to say that what Daniel Pantaleo did to Eric Garner played no role in his death would require us all to believe that type of outrageous story.
But let me tell you how we got here and who all has failed the family of Eric Garner so badly that this case is still open 5 years after the fact.
First and foremost, former District Attorney Dan Donovan failed the family of Eric Garner for refusing to press charges in this case all the way back in 2014. It was this failure, in part, that helped me first understand that we need to oust horrible District Attorneys and replace them compassionate reformers who have the courage to hold violent police accountable.
But after Dan Donovan failed this family, at least three systems existed that could’ve come behind Dan Donovan and provided this family with some justice.
President Obama and his Justice Department had 3 years to investigate this case and hold the officer accountable. In fact, my friend Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner, who literally died fighting for justice for her father, said that both former Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama promised her that they would do so, but guess what happened? They opened the investigation and never closed it – leaving it open for the Trump administration to make their final determination. Of course, the Trump administration ruled that Eric Garner’s civil rights weren’t violated, but the truth is that by never making their own ruling, after having 3 years to do so, the Obama administration failed this family miserably. If I had to make a list of 5 sins of the Obama administration, this would be on that list. Their failure broke Erica’s heart. She felt so betrayed by them.
The second group that could and should’ve quickly done something about this was the NYPD. The chokehold was banned by the NYPD nearly 25 years ago. It’s a clear violation of multiple policies. And when they refused to fire Daniel Pantaleo, and instead protected him for 5 straight years, it basically said to the world that they will ignore their most important policies to protect one of their own.
And that brings me to the last party that has the power to do something about this case and has absolutely refused to do so – and that’s New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio. The Mayor of New York City has direct oversight of the police department and has the power to fire any single employee – including the Chief of Police. And what’s so disturbing about De Blasio being completely unwilling to fire him, is that he ran for Mayor on the platform of holding police accountable for misconduct. He’s in his second term and can’t run for reelection so he can’t say that he refused to fire the officer for political reasons. He just lacked the will to do it.
Before she passed away, a huge part of my last conversation with Erica Garner was about her rage that Mayor Bill De Blasio showed up to her father’s funeral, spoke against the injustice when the cameras were around, then refused to do anything about it.
It’s been 5 years. And it’s time that we hold Bill De Blasio accountable for his inaction here.