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Very Real

‘I Can’t Breathe’: NYPD Gives Ultimatum To Feds, Announces Disciplinary Actions Against Cops In Eric Garner’s Death, Exactly 4 Years Later

Garner died after being put in chokehold by officer Daniel Pantaleo, sparking widespread outrage that helped galvanize the Black Lives Matter movement. 

By Samira Sadeque

The NYPD will be pursuing internal disciplinary action against the officers involved in the death of Eric Garner, who was choked to death exactly four years ago outside a store on Staten Island.

The NYPD gave the Department of Justice an ultimatum to file criminal charges by the end of August, NY1 reported on Monday, on the eve of Garner’s fourth death anniversary.

“Understandably, members of the public in general and the Garner family, in particular, have grown impatient with the fact that NYPD has not proceeded with our disciplinary proceedings,” Lawrence Byrne, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner, reportedly wrote in a letter to the Department of Justice. “They have difficulty comprehending a decision to defer to a federal criminal investigation that seems to have no end in sight.”

Byrne added that the department can longer justify their own disciplinary proceedings being further delayed, given there has been no “final decision” since the killing four years ago, The New York Times reported.  

The disciplinary proceedings would involve Officers Daniel Pantaleo and Kizzy Adonis, one of the first supervisors to arrive at the scene. Pantaleo was seen in a bystander video putting Garner in a lethal chokehold. The officer was trying to arrest him for selling untaxed cigarettes. (Chokeholds are banned by New York’s police departments, according to NPR.)

Garner’s last words “I can’t breathe” became a rallying cry in the Black Lives Matter movement and a statement on police brutality.

The death of the 43-year-old was eventually ruled a homicide by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Garner's family reportedly reached a $5.9 million settlement with the New York city authorities in 2015. His mother, Gwen Carr, on Tuesday called the NYPD's announcement a "smokescreen," according to Staten Island Live. She claimed Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Police Commissioner James O'Neill were notified in an April letter that the DOJ approved the city to proceed with the case if it wanted to.

"So why would they wait to the day before the anniversary to send this letter out?" Carr questioned. 
"(Mayor Bill) de Blasio -- why September? Why September?" she asked at a rally outside City Hall on Tuesday, according to CNN. "When you could have moved in April and May and June and now it's July. Let's move today. We have to get action on this case."
The DOJ said in a statement to CNN that they notified NYPD in the spring to go ahead with their proceedings, but NYPD officials denied this claim. They told CNN they had many conversations with DOJ since 2015, but the department was told not to conduct its own internal proceedings. 

Others echoes Carr's skepticism. Hawk Newsome, a leader of an unofficial New York chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement, reportedly said the decision at this time is “opportunistic.” 

 "Why did it take this long?" he told Newsweek. "The Mayor started this proceeding now because black people are apathetic and they need a win to restore their face in the American system." 

The NYPD announcement comes less than a year after Garner’s daughter, who went on to become a voice for the Black Lives Matter movement after her father’s death, died of a heart attack in December.

Erica Garner died at the age of 27, a few months after giving birth to her son. Black Lives Matter said that her heart attack was a result of the immense emotional stress she endured following the death of her father.

“Erica’s death stands as a stark illumination of the ways in which police violence also takes an unimaginable toll on our families: emotionally, spiritually, financially, and physically,” they wrote after her death.

[Photo: Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner seen outside NYPD headquarters on July 2, 2018, to honor his memory. By Getty Images]