NEW YORK -- Eric Garner's widow said she will not accept an apology from the New York City Police Department officer who put him in a chokehold as he repeatedly screamed "I can't breathe" minutes before he died. Esaw Garner said she is determined to obtain justice for her husband, the latest victim in a series of recent police killings across the nation that have ignited debate over excessive force and how law enforcement officials treat black men.
"Hell no. No, I don't accept his apology," Esaw Garner said Wednesday night at a rally in the historically black neighborhood of Harlem in New York City hours after a grand jury decided not to bring charges against Officer Daniel Pantaleo. "This fight ain't over, it has just begun. I'm determined to get justice for my husband. He should be here celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas. Somebody who got paid to do right, did wrong. As long as I have a breath in my body, I will fight to the end."
Gwen Garner, the victim's mother, joined her daughter-in-law in calling for greater police scrutiny. "I don't know what video they were looking at. Evidently it wasn't the same one that the rest of the world was looking at," she said, referring to a widely circulated video that showed Panteleo choking Garner, 43, as he gasped for breath. She also urged supporters to avoid the violence and rioting that broke out in Ferguson, Missouri, in recent months after the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in August. A white police officer also will not face criminal charges in that case.
"We need peace throughout the support," Gwen Garner said as a crowd of protesters began chanting "boycott." "Yeah, we want you to rally, but rally in peace. Do what you have to, but do it in peace."
The emotional pleas from the Garner family came Wednesday night during a rally hosted by civil rights activist Al Sharpton, who had taken a critical stance against the NYPD since the chokehold death in July. "We have no confidence in local state prosecutors. Because state prosecutors work hand and hand with the local police. They do not have the independence," he said.
Sharpton also announced a national march against police brutality on Dec. 13 in Washington, D.C. He compared the Garner and Brown deaths to the recent police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Ohio. "We are dealing with a national crisis," Sharpton said. "How many people have to die before people understand this is not an illusion? This is a realty that America has got to come to turns with. We are not advocating violence. We are asking that police violence stop."
Garner died July 17 after a confrontation with several NYPD officers who stopped him for allegedly selling cigarettes illegally. Garner, who suffered from asthma, lost consciousness after he was put into a chokehold. A New York City medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide by “compression of the neck.” He had three children.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Wednesday night a federal investigation into the police killing. “We have all seen the video of Mr. Garner's arrest. His death, of course, was a tragedy. All lives must be valued. All lives,” Holder said, appearing to evoke the popular protest phrase “black lives matter” that has become a rallying cry among Brown and Garner supporters. The Department of Justice is also investigating Brown's death.