NEW YORK – In the wake of the tragic killing of Eric Garner, an unarmed man who died while subjected to an unauthorized chokehold by police officer Daniel Pantaleo, United States Representatives Hakeem Jeffries, Gregory Meeks and Yvette D. Clarke stood in front of One Police Plaza and called upon the Department of Justice (DOJ) to intervene in the case. Rep. Jeffries, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, released a letter sent to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on August 13 asking Mr. Holder to “open a formal investigation into the death of Eric Garner and the alleged constitutional and civil rights violations connected with the broken windows law enforcement strategy undertaken by the New York Police Department.” In addition to Reps. Jeffries, Meeks and Clarke, other members of the New York Congressional Delegation on the letter include Charles B. Rangel, Jose E. Serrano and Nydia Velazquez.
The letter expressed concern that Officer Pantaleo remains free and on the police department payroll, notwithstanding the recent conclusion by the Chief Medical Examiner that Mr. Garner had been the victim of a homicide due to compression of the chest and neck. In addition, the letter asked the DOJ to evaluate whether the NYPD “is engaging in a racially selective law enforcement campaign pursuant to its broken windows approach” in a manner that jeopardizes “the constitutional and federal civil rights of black and Latino residents.”
In front of One Police Plaza, the request for federal intervention was amplified.
Rep. Jeffries: “Eric Garner is dead. The person who videotaped the incident was arrested. And the officer who killed Mr. Garner in broad daylight remains free and on the N.Y.P.D.’s payroll. There’s something wrong with that picture. Instead of focusing on broken windows, we should focus on the broken portrait of justice in New York City.”
Rep. Rangel: “While we cannot bring back Eric nor ease the suffering for his family and loved ones, we must and will do everything to ensure justice is served.”
Rep. Serrano: “The circumstances surrounding Eric Garner’s tragic death are deeply troubling, and come in the context of a policing strategy that potentially violates the constitutional and civil rights of communities of color in New York City. Everything seems to indicate that Mr. Garner was a victim of an unlawful practice that was banned two decades ago, and there are some worrying indications that this tragedy may not get a full and fair investigation absent federal intervention. We need a forceful and unbiased entity like the Department of Justice to step in and ensure justice is done.”
Rep. Velazquez: “This profound tragedy has affected all New Yorkers. Our community and the Garner family deserve a swift investigation that provides justice and a full accounting of the facts.”
Rep. Meeks: “To guarantee that there is the highest level of transparency as we aggressively pursue justice for victims of deadly acts it is often imperative that the U.S. Department of Justice step in to ensure that no stone is left unturned. DOJ intervention is our best hope of a thorough, impartial and transparent process in this instance. Our community deserves answers and the greatest degree of scrutiny in any situation that involves the loss of life; that is what we are calling for today. Anything less is unacceptable and a miscarriage of justice.”
Rep. Clarke: “The chokehold has been prohibited by New York Police Department regulations for more than twenty years, and with reason — a chokehold prevents normal breathing. We believe that the Department of Justice has a responsibility to investigate not only the killing of Eric Garner, but also the hundreds and possibly thousands of civil rights violations that have occurred with the continued application of the chokehold.”
To date, there is no indication that the local district attorney is prepared to aggressively prosecute this case. Given the institutional relationship that exists between the police department and every prosecutor’s office, as well as the high profile nature of this matter, federal intervention is appropriate.
“The family of Eric Garner deserves an impartial and independent investigation into his tragic death. For that to happen, the Department of Justice must get involved” Rep. Jeffries concluded.