“It’s just so sad. It brings back terrible memories,” Kadiatou Diallo told the Daily News at the funeral of Eric Garner, the father of six whose death after a New York City Police officer allegedly locked him in an illegal chokehold on a Staten Island street last week. “After all these cases and all these years, nothing seems to change.” Diallo’s unarmed son, Amadou Diallo, was cut down in a hail of NYPD bullets in the Bronx in 1999. And I have to say, after reading and watching the stories about the Garner death and aftermath, I share her plus-ca-change-plus-c’est-la-meme-chose sentiment.
Once again, an unarmed black man is dead at the hands of police. Once again, Rev. Al Sharpton is leading public protests and thundering for justice. Once again, Bill Bratton, who was police commissioner from 1994 to 1996 and thus no longer at the helm when Diallo was killed, is police commissioner. But there have been serious and hopeful changes from the atmosphere in the Big Apple a generation ago.
“I assure all New Yorkers there will be a full and thorough investigation,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio the day after the incident, which was captured on video. That’s a far cry from the knee-jerk support of the NYPD New Yorkers had grown accustomed to under Mayor Rudy Giuliani. So was what Bratton had to say. “As defined in the department’s patrol guide, this would appear to have been a chokehold,” he said. And the department is unequivocal on the appropriateness of such a tactic. “Members of the New York City Police Department will NOT use chokeholds,” the patrol guide explicitly makes clear. Yet it happened. Brazenly so. That’s why even the White House and the Justice Department are expressing concern.
“In the aftermath of this tragic event, Justice Department officials have been in touch with Mr. Garner’s family members,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement today. “We are closely monitoring the city’s investigation into the incident.”
“First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers go out to Mr. Garner’s family and friends in this unimaginably difficult time,” Addie Whisenant, a White House spokesman, told me via e-mail. “As Mayor de Blasio has said, the incident calls for a thorough investigation, and the mayor has directed his team to conduct that investigation. The FBI has said that they are monitoring that investigation closely. I’m not going to get ahead of that process right now and will let it run its course but again, we extend our deepest condolences to Mr. Garner’s family.”
Thanks to the video, we saw what happened with our own eyes. Garner was approached by police on the street, accused of selling untaxed cigarettes. We saw him proclaim his innocence (respectfully, I might add), the ensuing exchange and the subsequent takedown with chokehold. And we heard the 300-pound Garner, who suffered from asthma and other maladies, say several times “I can’t breathe.”
The two cops involved in the takedown have had their guns and badges taken pending the investigation. Four EMS workers were suspended without pay pending an investigation for not aiding Garner. By all means investigate. But all involved must be held accountable and brief suspensions simply won’t cut it. Not given what we already know.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj