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What would NYPD Commissioner O’Neill have done differently if he had been in Pantaleo’s shoes? Nothing. Nothing at all

2019-08-20

New York City Police Commissioner James O'Neill announces his decision to fire Officer Daniel Pantaleo. (Luiz C. Ribeiro/for New York Daily News)

The Police Commissioner who spent decades on the street as a cop and wore a uniform for 34 years says he's not sure what he would have done if he had been in Daniel Pantaleo’s shoes or on the scene when Eric Garner died in a police chokehold five years ago in Staten Island.

James P. O’Neill said Monday he would like to think that he would have taken his own arm from around Garner’s neck, or waited for backup to arrive.

But I can tell you what O’Neill would have done differently.

Nothing. Nothing at all.

Because the police commissioner who fired Pantaleo stood behind the same podium where he ended an officer’s career and continued to kick a man who died when confronted by police over a minor crime — selling loose, untaxed cigarettes — that was never proven, on the street or in a court of law.

He spoke in the soft voice of a librarian, but O’Neill continued the troublesome, blustery blame-the-victim rhetoric that suggests Garner would still be alive if he had simply complied with police who were trying to take him into custody.

“They approached Mr. Garner to make their arrest,” O”Neill said. “That offense could have resulted in a summons. But Mr. Garner refused to provide identification, which meant he had to be brought to the precinct for processing. For several minutes on that widely-viewed video, Mr. Garner makes it abundantly clear that he will not go willingly with the police officers. He refused to cooperate with the arrest and comply with lawful orders.”

Frankly, we could have done without O’Neill’s whole I-wore-the-uniform speech. There were only two words that O’Neill needed to say: “He’s fired.”

“See ya” would have been acceptable, too.

Because anything else — Pantaleo’s arrest numbers, the Staten Island crime statistics — only dilute what O’Neill inexplicably says was a difficult decision.

And while he bent over backwards to empathize with Pantaleo, O’Neill left standing the still unproven allegation that Garner was on the street that day breaking the law by selling unlicensed cigarettes.

“It was clear in the only proceeding that happened that Eric Garner was the victim of a policeman who broke policy and in fact contributed to his death,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton at a news conference with Garner’s family. “All else about Eric Garner is speculative and reckless.”

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Meanwhile, Pantaleo’s lawyer, Stuart London, said the ex-cop will appeal O’Neill’s decision.

“They stripped him of everything he has.,” London said.

Really? Everything?

Eric Garner is dead. Pantaleo got to go home that day — and every day since.