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Closure, if not justice: Commissioner O’Neill’s firing of Officer Pantaleo brings frustrating closure to Eric Garner tragedy


Tough man, tough decision, right call. (Luiz C. Ribeiro/for New York Daily News)

On Monday, Police Commissioner O’Neill uttered words far too long in coming: "It is clear that Daniel Pantaleo can no longer effectively serve as a New York City police officer.”

In ending Pantaleo’s career for causing Eric Garner’s death on July 17, 2014, O’Neill closes a long and painful period in this city’s history. After 1,860 days, it was undoubtedly the correct decision — following a recommendation from Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado that was later affirmed by First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker —

O’Neill carefully laid out the nuanced set of facts supporting his decision. He noted Garner was not entirely without fault. Shortly before cops arrived on the scene, Garner was spotted selling illegal cigarettes, a longstanding problem in the area. Garner resisted what was, initially, a fully legal arrest.

Pantaleo’s initial application of the chokehold could have been excusable as both men nearly crashed through a window. Then the chokehold transformed. O’Neill recited Judge Maldonado’s finding, confirming what many saw on video of the arrest.

We saw, the judge found, O’Neill confirmed, that Pantaleo "kept his hands clasped and maintains the chokehold. Mr. Garner’s obvious distress is confirmed when he coughs and grimaces.” Then came Garner’s words. “I can’t breathe.”

Contrast O’Neill’s meticulous explanation with this reprehensible reaction to his decision from Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch.

“[O’Neill] 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."

O’Neill, who wore the uniform more than 30 years, was clearly torn: “Every time I watch that video I say to myself, 'Mr. Garner, don’t do it. Comply. Officer Pantaleo, don’t do it."

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The death of Eric Garner and the events that followed

He confessed that, were he still a beat cop, he would likely be angry over his decision. Nonetheless, it was the right, grievously overdue one.

The decision to fire Pantaleo took too long to arrive. For that, many share blame — the U.S. Justice Department, the city and the NYPD. Let that never happen again. While many will not consider this justice, O’Neill’s decision brings a bit of closure to a city desperately needing to heal.