Eric Garner was killed four years ago today for selling loose cigarettes in Staten Island. His killer remains on the job, while the man who filmed his death is in jail.
On July 17, 2014, police originally approached Garner on suspicion that he was selling loose, untaxed cigarettes on the street. The questioning transitioned into a physical struggle when Officer Daniel Pantaleo put Garner in a chokehold, which has been banned by the NYPD since 1993. Garner died, leaving behind four children (daughter Erica Garner, who became an outspoken criminal justice reform activist after her father’s death, died in December of last year due to a heart attack at the age of 27).
Eric Garner’s final words were “I can’t breathe,” which later turned into a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement in a wave of protests nationwide after a grand jury declined to charge Pantaleo in Garner’s death.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Video of Garner’s death is below. Images may be disturbing to some viewers.)
An ongoing federal investigation is still deciding whether or not to file charges against Pantaleo for denying Garner his civil rights, though prosecutors have, on multiple occasions, recommended federal charges. The decision of whether or not to charge Pantaleo rests with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
While Pantaleo has been shifted to desk duty, he’s making more in salary today than he was in 2014. In 2016, the New York Daily News reported that Pantaleo was paid just shy of $120,000 for fiscal year 2016, after making $105,061 with overtime just one year prior.
“The vast majority of men and women who serve the NYPD treat the public with respect and are selfless civil servants, but Officer Pantaleo is not one of them. He should not be rewarded for his reprehensible actions,” New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said at the time.
Even though Officer Pantaleo remains a free man, Ramsey Orta — the man who filmed Garner’s death — is currently in jail. In 2016, Orta was arrested on drug and weapons charges and given a four-year sentence after selling drugs to an undercover NYPD officer. Orta said he has been beaten by corrections officers and put in solitary confinement, alleging guards who were former NYPD officers are retaliating against him for filming Eric Garner’s death.
The one sliver of justice afforded to Garner’s family is Tuesday’s announcement that the NYPD is pursuing internal charges against the officers involved in his death. The department said the delay in pursuing charges was out of respect for the federal civil rights investigation, which is still ongoing.
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.