A week after a Missouri grand jury decided not to charge Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, New York City awaited a grand jury vote, expected Wednesday, on the fate of a New York City Police Department officer in the choke hold death of Eric Garner. Following violent protests in Ferguson, city officials are prepared, and have said such behavior will not be tolerated.
“If we think public safety is compromised, the police will act very assertively to address the problem,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told a press conference Tuesday.
During the weekend, however, the Rev. Al Sharpton expressed a different sentiment: “I want people to know that it’s not just Ferguson. It’s right here. And we going to watch this grand jury -- they have to come back within days -- and we going to be prepared to continue to fight for the federal government to intervene.”
The 23-member grand jury began investigating the choke hold death in September and reportedly heard its final witness, NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, according to NBC News. The grand jury is tasked with deciding whether Pantaleo will face criminal charges after a witness-recorded video showing him wrapping his arm around Garner’s neck while other officers wrestled the unarmed man to the ground. Garner shouted “I can’t breathe!” six times before he went silent and was later pronounced dead at Richmond University Medical Center July 17. Police were arresting Garner on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes.
The New York medical examiner in August ruled Garner’s death a homicide caused by an officer’s use of a choke hold -- a restraining maneuver specifically banned by the NYPD in 1993. Pantaleo was reassigned to desk duty after the death, and stripped of his badge and gun. However, NYPD officials have denied Garner was put in a banned choke hold. Garner, 43, of Staten Island was married and had six children, according to the New York Daily News.
The incident has captivated a national audience and draws parallels to the fatal police shooting in Ferguson where a white officer shot and killed an unarmed black teen. Pantaleo is a white police officer and Garner was an unarmed black man. Garner’s death adds to the growing national debate on police brutality and mainly white officers policing African-American communities.
Last week, violent demonstrations in Ferguson set cars and at least a dozen buildings on fire, following the grand jury’s decision against returning an indictment. NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said Tuesday additional police units will be in Staten Island in anticipation of the decision. De Blasio also said the city has been “planning accordingly.”