Almost five years to the date that he took his last breath, the battle for justice in the death of Eric Garner came to an anti-climatic close on Tuesday morning.
According to a report by The New York Times, federal prosecutors from the Justice Department have declined to file charges against Daniel Pantaleo, the officer accused of using an illegal takedown move on Garner which had been banned two decades prior. Pantaleo contends that he did not use a chokehold, but acted out of self-defense, opting to use what is called a “seat belt maneuver.”
A medical examiner determined that the cause of death was the chokehold which in turn triggered Garner’s asthma and led to a fatal heart attack.
The decision to not move forward closes a five-year struggle helmed by the Garner family in seeing that those who took away their loved ones life were held accountable. The announcement was handed down one day before the fifth anniversary of Garner’s death, which also served as the deadline for federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, New York, to make a decision on whether or not the case would move forward.
Since that fateful day on July 17, 2014 where Garner, 43, echoed, l “I can’t breathe” on a Staten Island sidewalk in the heat of summer, several other young Black women and men have met a similar fate at the hands of police, spurring national attention to the ways in which communities of color are policed as an overflow of our country’s justice system which leans heavily on antiquated ideals of racism and discrimination.
Pantaleo has dodged many of the efforts taken up by Garner’s family to seek justice, including his mother Gwenn Carr and his widow Esaw Snipes. In 2014, a grand jury declined to indict. And the Justice Department, mired down with transitions of several Attorney Generals since 2014, including a totally new administration, have made little traction in moving the investigation forward.
A disciplinary trial ended last month which will determine if Pantaleo will be fired from the NYPD. To date he maintains on desk duty while collecting pay and a pension from the force. It will be up to Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill to decide whether Pantaleo will be fired or face some form of disciplinary action. His decision is expected to be handed down in the coming months.
While Pantaleo was not alone during the altercation, the other officers involved have also evaded criminal charges or disciplinary action from the police force.
The city of New York reached a $5.9 million settlement with the Garner family in 2015. While it was the city’s largest wrongful-death payout, no amount of money will be able to restore what the Garner family has lost over the last five years.