NYPD officer in Eric Garner Case Has Been Fired

The recent announcement by James O'Neill, NYPD Police Commissioner, to fire Officer Joseph Pantaleo from the New York Police Department brings an end to a five-year struggle to achieve some modicum of justice in the Eric Garner case. In rendering the decision, O’Neil stated that Pantaleo used a choke-hold in subduing Garner. The move is illegal and banned by the NYPD. In O’Neil’s estimation, the choke-hold maneuver and the video confirmed that “Daniel Pantaleo could no longer serve as a NYPD police officer,” according to NPR.

O’Neil’s decision confirmed the earlier conclusion of an NYPD administrative judge that ruled Pantaleo should be fired for his role in the choking death of Garner. The disciplinary board also found that Pantaleo not only lied about the choke-hold, but the nature of the crimes with which Eric Garner was charged. Joseph Amoco, Pantaleo’s partner, testified that Pantaleo exaggerated the number of cigarettes Garner was attempting to sell. Pantaleo alleged a felony tax charge of 10,000 cigarettes when Garner, in fact, had fewer than 100 cigarettes in his possession, according to CBS News.

Reaction to the decision was swift and widespread. New York Mayor and Democratic presidential hopeful Bill DeBlasio praised O’Neil’s decision. “Today, we have finally see justice done," he started. "Today, we saw the NYPD's own disciplinary process act fairly and impartially.” New York Attorney General Letitia James said “that some semblance of justice is being served.” The Reverend Al Sharpton, President of the National Action Network, called on Jerry Nadler, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, to open an investigation into the death of Eric Garner and federal inaction in the case. He also called on the state of New York and the federal government to make choke-hold deaths a crime punishable by more than termination, according to CNN.

Eric Garner’s daughter and family members have played a central role in preserving his memory. Garner’s oldest daughter, Erica, became an activist, highlighting the injustice of her father’s murder and the need for police reform. She died after suffering cardiac arrest and slipping into a coma in late 2017. Other members of the family have been very vocal about the need for justice in the case. Gwen Carr, Eric Garner’s mother, decried the failure of the Department of Justice to bring federal charges against Officer Pantaleo, according to the New York Times.

In one of the most powerful responses to the decision, Eric Garner’s daughter, Emerald, boldly proclaimed: “I don't want another Eric Garner. I will do everything in my power to never see another Eric Garner. I don't even want to see another video of a person being choked out because it wasn't supposed to happen to him. It's not supposed to happen. I should not be here standing with my brother, fatherless. I should be standing here with my father. But Pantaleo took that away from me on 7/17. Yes, he's fired. But the fight is not over. We will continue to fight."

While many welcomed the news of Pantaleo’s firing, the supporters of Officer Pantaleo were critical of the decision. Patrick Lynch, President of the NYPD Union, accused the police commissioner of putting self-interest above the welfare of officers. Pantaleo’s Attorney Stuart London claimed that he received notice of the decision to fire his client 13 minutes before the public announcement. He vowed to file an Article 78 in court to appeal the commissioner’s decision to fire his client, according to CNN.

About the Author

Stephen G. Hall is a sections editor for The North Star. He is a historian specializing in 19th and 20th century African American and American intellectual, social and cultural history and the African Diaspora. Hall is the author of A Faithful Account of the Race: African American Historical Writing in Nineteenth-Century America and is working on a new book exploring the scholarly production of Black historians on the African Diaspora from 1885 to 1960.