The U.S Department of Justice has announced that it plans to conduct a federal investigation into the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner, after a Grand Jury decided on Wednesday not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo to stand trial in Federal court on charges which could range from murder to the unlawful use of lethal force. In a viral video taken of the incident, Pantaleo is shown using an illegal choke-hold technique to subdue Garner, which a New York City Medical examiner has confirmed directly contributed to the asthmatic man’s death.
U.S Attorney General Eric Holder and Brooklyn federal prosecutor Loretta Lynch announced on Wednesday that the U.S Justice Department would be opening a federal investigation into the death of Eric Garner, as thousands of protesters flooded the streets of New York and other major cities around the country. Lynch asserted that the Justice Department intended to conduct a “fair and thorough probe” into the incident which would investigate “potential civil rights violations” as well as issues related to police misconduct, such as the unlawful use of force.
The Justice Department announcement comes amid a rising tide of nationwide outrage aimed at the failure of a Staten Island Grand Jury to indict Pantaleo to stand trial for the death of Eric Garner. The jury decision came despite the presence of what many believe to be ample and irrefutable evidence proving that Pantaleo’s actions directly contributed to Garner’s death, such as a cellphone video which captured the entire incident. In the video, which has since gone viral on YouTube, Pantaleo is seen using a choke-hold technique to subdue Garner, a technique which the officer claims he learned while training at the police academy, yet the technique is prohibited by the NYPD code of conduct. The visual evidence presented in the video is complimented by chilling audio in which Garner can be heard saying “I can’t breathe” at least 8 times as multiple officers pin him down on the sidewalk.
Many furious citizens have started to question the effectiveness of the justice system itself in handling cases involving law enforcement issues, such as the alleged unlawful use of lethal force which led to Eric Garner’s death. “There is no justice” said 47-year-old New York resident Jeanette Johnson as she and other protesters stomped on “looseys”, a slang term for loose cigarettes, in a reference to statements made by the NYPD that Garner was approached by officers for peddling them. “All over the country cops are getting away with this” stated 22-year old New York City resident Dimitri Green, who joined others in protesting the jury decision near a strip of stores in Tompkinsville, Staten Island, where Garner lost his life. Elected officials have also expressed their dissatisfaction, with the New York delegation to Congress denouncing the jury decision as a “miscarriage of justice.”
While the Justice Department prepares to launch a probe into Eric Garner’s death, the NYPD Citizen Complaint Review Board has already launched a probe of its own and has since removed Pantaleo, an eight year veteran of the force, from active duty during the currently ongoing investigation. The NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau has also launched an investigation through which Pantaleo could face possible departmental charges that could potentially end his career. According to unnamed sources cited by The New York Daily News, Pantaleo is currently on modified duty and has been advised to remain out of sight for his own safety.
As the Justice Department prepares its investigation into he death of Eric Garner, it faces the daunting task of convincing a significant amount of the public that the justice system itself is indeed still effective in administering fair and balanced justice. In the meantime, thousands of American citizens will continue to take to the streets to protest the deaths of unarmed African-American citizens like Michael Brown and Eric Garner as they ask themselves difficult questions like the one posed by Vincent Warren, head of the Center for Constitutional Rights “How can anyone in the community have faith in the system now?”
By: Charles Stephen Craun
Photo courtesy of The All-Nite Images- Flickr License