NYPD firing of Daniel Pantaleo in chokehold death of Eric Garner reverberates in Queens

Protesters rallying against a grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner marched around Manhattan for hours on Dec. 3, 2014, before heading over the Brooklyn Bridge.
AP Photo via Brooklyn Paper

Five years after the death of Eric Garner, NYPD Police Commissioner James O’Neill fired police officer Daniel Pantaleo and stripped him of his pension for violating the department’s ban on chokeholds.

“It is clear Daniel Pantaleo can no longer serve as a New York City police officer,” O’Neill said at One Police Plaza Monday. “This is not an easy decision; I’ve been thinking about this day since the day I was sworn in.”

Two weeks ago an internal disciplinary trial determined that Pantaleo employed the illegal chokehold on Garner, who died on July 17, 2014. Under the City Charter and state law, the decision to terminate Pantaleo belonged to the commissioner, who spent 34 years as a street cop.

“If I was still a cop, I would probably be mad at me,” O’Neill admitted. “Some will be angry … but we all have to work through this, we’re a resilient organization.”

Bayside resident Patrick Lynch, the president of the Police Benevolent Association, was furious with the decision.

“Police Commissioner O’Neill has made his choice: he has chosen politics and his own self-interest over the police he claims to lead,” Lynch fumed. “He has chosen to cringe in fear of the anti-police extremists, rather than standing up for New Yorkers who want a functioning police department, with cops who are empowered to protect them and their families.”

It was Garner’s dying words “I can’t breathe” that helped fuel the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement across the country. Lynch said the commissioner would discover that “anti-cop haters” will still not be satisfied while losing the Department’s rank-and-file.

“The damage is already done. The NYPD will remain rudderless and frozen and the commissioner will never be able to bring it back,” Lynch said. “We are urgings all New York City police officers to proceed with the utmost caution in this new reality, in which they may be deemed ‘reckless’ just for doing their job.”

Around Queens, elected officials such as Councilman Rory Lancman, who was endorsed by Garner’s mother Gwen Carr in his failed bid for Queens District Attorney, wrote, “About time” on Twitter.

“A police officer who recklessly used such devastating force with such deadly consequences has no business in the NYPD,” he added.

After Lancman pulled out of the race prior to the Democratic primary, Carr switched her endorsement to Tiffany Cabán, the public defender from Astoria who came in second to Queens Borough President Melinda Katz after a prolonged vote count. Cabán tweeted that the firing of Pantaleo was the bare minimum that the Garner family deserved.

“The work isn’t done either,” Cabán wrote. “Every single officer involved needs to be held accountable.”

City Comptroller Scott Stringer echoed that sentiment.

“Now I urge the commissioner to finish the job and terminate all the officers who stood by and watched as Eric Garner gasped for breath,” he said. “As a city, we have to use this moment to look in the mirror and examine how we ensure police accountability and fairness under the law. No public servant can be above public scrutiny. Though today’s decision is welcome, we still have to address the systemic racism and prejudice that undermines our criminal justice system.”

In rendering his decision, the commissioner said it was his own and not a specific directive from City Hall. Mayor Bill de Blasio said he hoped the decision would bring closure for the Garner family and that the police force has changed since 2014.

“I know the NYPD of today is a different institution than it was just a few years ago,” he said. “I know that the NYPD has changed profoundly. I know the members of the NYPD learned the lesson of this tragedy.”

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