Queens dismayed grand jury did not indict in Garner death

By Juan Soto

Queens reacted with swift disappointment to the decision by a Staten Island grand jury not to indict a white police officer in the chokehold death of black resident Eric Garner.

The decision was announced Wednesday by Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan. In a statement, he expressed condolences to the family of Garner, who died in July during his arrest for selling loose cigarettes.

“I am absolutely disappointed, appalled, and ashamed by the grand jury’s decision not to indict,” City Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) said. “Once again, it has been demonstrated that the threshold for indictment when it comes to black lives at the hands of police has been elevated to an unattainable standard.”

The Staten Island DA said the investigation into the case, which was replayed around the nation as Garner slumped to the sidewalk saying “I can’t breathe,” began immediately and was conducted independently.

The decision comes a little more than a week after a grand jury in Ferguson, Mo., declined to indict police officer Darren Wilson, the white officer who shot an unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.

Hours after the DA’s announcement, the streets were quiet on a rainy night in Queens, but crowds were gathering in Union Square, Times Square and other spots in Manhattan.

The Justice Department is investigating the Garner death through the office of U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch in Brooklyn.

Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) pointed out, “It is with a heavy heart and sincere disappointment that I acknowledge once more that our judicial system has failed to administer justice on behalf of those most vulnerable. It is imperative now for the communities of color and our allies to collectively voice our concerns on excessive policing and work diligently to enact systemic change.”

The city medical examiner’s office concluded that Garner had died from excessive force applied during the chokehold and classified his death as a homicide.

Donovan said the investigation “spanned four months, and focused on locating civilian eyewitnesses with information and evidence to offer.”

The district attorney said there were more than 38 interviews conducted during the investigation, including 22 civilians “who reported to have seen some part of the interaction between Eric Garner and members of the NYPD.”

The officer involved, Daniel Pantaleo, testified during the grand jury investigation.

Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica), said, “It is unconscionable that in the 21st century, New Yorkers of color continue to live under occupation in their own communities.” The lawmaker added that the “system entrusted to serve and protect the people instead serves to breed more distrust and discontent towards law enforcement, and reverses whatever gains have been achieved towards improving police-community relations.”

Miller, Richards and Wills represent southeast Queens, which is predominately black.

In Washington, President Obama told a news conference on the Garner case “when everyone is not being treated equally under the law, that is a problem.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Garner’s death “put a spotlight on police-community relations and civil rights.” He added that the grand jury’s decision to clear the officer “is one that many in our city did not want.”

But de Blasio reminded New Yorkers that the case is far from over.

“There will still be an NYPD internal investigation,” he said. “And we know the U.S. attorney (Loretta Lynch in Brooklyn) is continuing her investigation .Should the federal government choose to act, we stand ready to cooperate.”

He called on New Yorkers to express themselves in a peaceful manner.

“New York City owns a proud and powerful tradition of expressing ourselves through non-violent protest,” he said. “We trust that those unhappy with today’s grand jury decision will make their views known in the same peaceful, constructive way.”

City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), said the decision was “disappointing and unacceptable.” She added, “There is something to be said about the ethics of our justice system when a man dies at the hands of a police officer and there isn’t, at a bare minimum, a fair trail.”

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman also called for peaceful demonstrations. “I understand and respect the anger and frustration that many are feeling right now, but I joined Mayor de Blasio and the Garner family in calling for a peaceful response from anyone who may choose to exercise their right to protest,” Schneiderman said.

In Washington, U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) and several other members of the New York City delegation, including Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria), also expressed their shock at the grand jury’s decision not to indict the officer.

“I believe the Justice department should investigate this matter further,” Maloney said. “Eric Garner’s death was a tragedy.”

Reach reporter Juan Soto by e-mail at jsoto‌@cngl‌ocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.