Last week a Staten Island, NY grand jury found that a white New York police officer who put a chokehold on a black man, Eric Garner, which led to his death, was not guilty of a crime. The decision ended the criminal case against the officer. The decision quickly drew widespread condemnation around the country.
The fatal arrest was caught on video camera by a passerby and has been seen around the world. But after the grand jury heard and saw all of the evidence, the jurors deliberate only for 24 hours before they decided that there was no sufficient evidence for a trial to go forward. The name of the officer in question is Daniel Pantaleo, who has been on the police force for eight years.
Pantaleo testified before the grand jury Nov. 21, noting that he did not intend to choke Garner to death. The police officer was attempting to arrest Garner for selling loose cigarettes. The officer described what he did as a standard takedown move, and he testified that he never believed Garner was in danger of dying.
The decision was only a week after the grand jury in Ferguson, MO did not find any criminal actions done by another white police officer. In that case, Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black man.
After the decision came down in Staten Island, many elected officials in New York City demanded that the Justice Department take action. They claimed that justice only would be served in a federal court. By that night, DOJ announced that it would start a civil rights inquiry.
There were protests all over New York City and around the country after the decision came down. Many protesters chanted what were Garner’s last words – “I can’t breathe.’
There were hundreds of angry protesters who took the the streets in Manhattan and also in Washington, with most of them peaceful. The New York police stated that there were few arrests, which was a contrast to the serious riots that occurred recently in Ferguson.
President Obama spoke from Washington after the Garner decision, stating that both the New York and Missouri decisions showed the frustrations that many blacks have about the US legal system, which has in the past discriminated against blacks.
Pantaleo stated last week that he felt very bad that Garner died, just as he said he told the 23 on the grand jury during his two hour testimony.
During the grand jury hearing, jurors saw three videos of the arrest. And during the testimony, Pantaleo said his actions were what he was taught at the Police Academy. He noted that when he was holding onto Gardner, he was afraid they would go through the window. That is when he had Garner in a chokehold.
The autopsy found that Garner died from the chokehold, which is a move that was banned by the New York Police Dept. in 1993. He also died from compression of his chest by several police officers.
This case, like the one in Ferguson, led many people to question the fairness of the grand jury system. Some say that these sorts of cases should proceed straight to trial.
But according to Boston Criminal Defense Attorney Geoffrey Nathan, before the Ferguson decision was made, he noted that many Americans do not understand how important the grand jury system is to justice. He added that the grand jury process is critical to determine if someone has committed a crime, and there really is not better system to administer justice.