“When I kissed my husband this morning, I never thought it would be for the last time,” Eric Garner’s wife told the New York Daily News. Thanks to what looks like an act of excessive force, though, it was.
Eric Garner died Thursday following a violent encounter with New York Police in Staten Island. Police say he suffered a heart attack.
The man, who was 43 and suffered from asthma, was put in a strong choke hold by police as they moved to arrest him. On video of the encounter, you can hear Garner struggling to get out the words “I can’t breathe” several times before collapsing. The person taking the video says he thinks Garner is having a seizure as police push him away from the scene.
At the beginning of the video, you can hear the man behind the camera pleading with police not to bother Garner, saying that he hadn’t done anything wrong and that they were arresting him “for breaking up a fight” — something several witnesses attested to. The police department claims that the man was selling untaxed cigarettes on the street, something he’d been arrested for previously, according to the Daily News. Meanwhile, Garner’s family says he had no cigarettes on him or in his car at the time of the incident.
Garner, before he died in police custody, can be heard on the tape saying, “I didn’t do shit… Every time you see me you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it.”
The story highlights many of the systemic problems behind not only Garner’s death, but a series of incidents between citizens and police officers in the city. While Mayor Bill de Blasio has promised to reform the department while in office, the NYPD has a long history of incidents involving apparent excessive force or questionable uses of power. Police reportedly smashed the head of a 14-year-old boy through a store window, they allegedly landed an 84-year-old in the hospital with head injuries after a jaywalking stop, and sent a woman to jail for elbowing a cop who she says was sexually assaulting her.
The department also has a long history of targeting men of color like Garner in its arrests. In 2011, for example, the NYPD recorded a number of stops for young black men that exceeds the actual number of young black men in the city.
Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the man who put Eric Garner in a choke-hold, has been stripped of his gun and badge, reports NBC news. While family members may be relieved by the decision, President of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association Patrick Lynch blasted the police department in a statement, saying, “The department’s modification of this police officer under these circumstances is a completely unwarranted, kneejerk reaction for political reasons and nothing more.”