NEW YORK — The death of a man after a police officer used an apparent chokehold to bring him to the ground during an arrest stoked online discussions about racial tension in America and led New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to cancel a family vacation.
In a video obtained by the New York Daily News and published Thursday, Eric Garner can reportedly be seen complaining about routine police harassment as two officers stand on either side of him. Later in the video, the two officers close in on Garner, who repeatedly says, “Don’t touch me,” as one officer puts him in a chokehold. He then can be heard repeatedly saying that he can’t breathe. Garner, a 6-foot-3, 350-pound black man, was asthmatic, the Daily News reported.
At a Harlem rally in Garner’s honor on Saturday, his wife Esaw Garner burst into tears and was escorted from the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network headquarters, which was packed with hundreds of people.
Sharpton said Thursday’s death of Garner, 43, while in custody could strain the black community’s relationship with the New York Police Department.
“This is going to be a real test to see where policies are in the city now and whether the change that we feel occurred has occurred,” Sharpton said, referring to promises made by de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton to improve the relationship between officers and the city’s minority communities. “We are the only ones in the social setup that has to deal with fear of cops and robbers.”
On Saturday, police officer Daniel Pantaleo, an eight-year NYPD veteran, was stripped of his gun and badge, and he and an officer who has been with the force for four years were both taken off the street while Garner’s death is being investigated, police said.
The department would not identify the second officer but said he would retain his gun and badge while on desk duty.
Garner was confronted by police trying to arrest him on suspicion of selling untaxed, loose cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk, authorities said. He became irate, denying the charges and refusing to be handcuffed before one of the officers placed him in what Bratton said appeared to be a chokehold, according to partial video of the encounter obtained by the New York Daily News.
The tactic is prohibited by departmental policy.
In the video, Garner, who has been arrested for selling illegal cigarettes numerous times in recent years, says he hasn’t done anything wrong.
“Every time you see me, you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. It stops today,” Garner shouts. “I’m minding my business. Please just leave me alone.”
As four officers bring him down, Garner is heard gasping, “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” The video shows one officer using his hands to push Garner’s face into the sidewalk.
Prosecutors and internal affairs detectives are investigating the death of the father of six and grandfather of two; authorities believe he had a heart attack. De Blasio called the circumstances of his death “very troubling.”
More tests are needed to determine the exact cause of Garner’s death, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner’s office said.
The mayor’s commissioner for community affairs attended the rally and stressed the administration’s commitment to boosting police and community relations.
“We’ve said from the beginning: Police work best when they have the respect from the community,” Marco Carrion said.
Garner’s death evoked memories of a similar incident in 1994. Police officer Francis Livoti was convicted by a federal jury of violating the civil rights of a Bronx man who died after Livoti apparently used a chokehold on him.