Eric Garner will be remembered as someone who was generous and congenial according to friends and family. Garner, a 43-year-old family man from Staten Island, was placed in an apparent chokehold on July 17 by police officer Daniel Panatleo for allegedly selling untaxed loose cigarettes on the sidewalk. He allegedly resisted arrest telling the police to leave him alone and that he was tired of being harassed. He also stated repeatedly that he could not breathe while he was lying on the ground, at that time surrounded and restrained by three or four other policemen. Apparently, CPR was delayed and Garner died a few minutes later. Authorities stated that Garner put up a fight and refused to be handcuffed.
Friends and neighbors find it hard to believe that Garner resisted arrest and have stated that he was not that kind of man. Eric Garner, a serious asthmatic, often hung out near the Staten Island ferry docks. Irvine Johnson, a friend, disagreed with recent remarks by authorities stating that Garner was more like a gentle giant at over six feet tall and 350 pounds. Some of his friends called him Teddy Bear and others called him Big E. Garner had six children, two grandchildren; he and his wife Esaw had been married for 25 years. Another friend, Jonathan DeGroat, said that Garner was a diffuser of fights, a peace-loving man and a real godfather. He also said that Garner was the type of person that would give a person the shirt off his back.
Police Commissioner William Bratton has a few policies in effect that are under current scrutiny, specifically Stop and Frisk and his Broken Windows policy of police tactics. Pat and Frisks usually occur in minority neighborhoods, usually associated with higher crime rates. Eighty-Five percent of the arrests as a result of P and F’s are of black and Latino men. Bratton’s Broken Window policy contends that if the police focus on small crimes like loitering, the sale of items illegally and other misdemeanors, high crime areas will become more orderly and law-abiding. Bratton said that Eric Garner’s death would be remembered as a tragedy and that there would be a full investigation, even though Garner resisted arrest. He also said that he would be looking very closely into the department’s training methods. Mayor Bill de Blasio, currently vacationing in Rome, also said that there would be a full investigation.
Garner’s arrest was videotaped by a local bystander; the video clearly showed that Officer Panatleo wrapped his hands around Garner’s neck while he resisted arrest. Choke-holds have been banned by the New York City Police Department since 1993. The video clearly showed Garner and Panatleo stumbling to the ground, other officers jumped on top of them while Garner gasped, saying that he could not breathe.
Dr. Cyril Wecht, a well-known pathologist, commented that Garner could have been saved had he been given the proper medical attention and placed in an upright position immediately. A preliminary autopsy showed no signs of choking death or an obstructed windpipe. Two EMTs and two paramedics arrived late on the scene, checked his pulse and placed him on a stretcher with police assistance. Israel Miranda, president of Local 2507 of the Uniformed EMTs, Paramedics and Fire Inspectors Union said that standard protocol was not met. He said that trained staff should always check the airway, clear it and provide oxygen. The four responders have been suspended pending investigation. One police officer has been asked to surrender his gun and his shield; two other officers have been placed on desk duty pending further investigation.
Garner’s funeral took place on Wednesday July 23 in Brooklyn; the Rev. Al Sharpton was present. On Tuesday, at a vigil in Tompkinsville Park, Elisha Flagg, Garner’s sister, said that the little bit of breath he had had been stolen from him. While standing outside the church during the funeral, friends remembered Eric Garner as a gentle man trying hard to make a few dollars, a family man and a nice individual. Others said they hoped he would be remembered for the kind of person he was and not how he died. One little girl said that Eric Garner would be at peace now.
By Dennis De Rose