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August 20, 2019

Mayor de Blasio, it’s not too late to honor Erica Garner’s legacy

January 17, 2018

Dear Mayor de Blasio:

As you know, Erica Garner — daughter of Eric Garner, the unarmed 43-year-old black father of six who was killed in 2014 when an NYPD officer put him in a chokehold, smashed his face onto the pavement and left his body on the ground — was laid to rest last week.

Her father’s death transformed Erica into an activist overnight. She staged die-ins at the murder scene, blocked traffic, held protests and vigils and stumped for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 primary campaign. She had to endure not only the brutal killing of her father, but the impunity granted to his killers.

Despite Eric’s death being determined a homicide, despite disturbing footage showing officer Daniel Pantaleo putting his arm across Eric’s throat, despite Eric gasping “I can’t breathe” 11 times, despite his being left on the ground for over six minutes before being picked up and dropped on a gurney and put in an ambulance, where he would have a fatal heart attack, despite the medical examiner ruling the death a homicide, not a single NYPD officer or official has been indicted, let alone convicted. A grand jury refused to indict Pantaleo, who not only remains employed by the NYPD but has been paid ample overtime above his salary since.

All of this weighed heavy on Erica’s heart. Literally. She died of a heart attack on Dec. 30. As the Reverend Al Sharpton said at her packed memorial in Harlem, “Her heart was attacked” the day her father was killed: “When she saw the tape of her father, that’s when her heart was broken. Whatever attack came came to the pieces that were left.” She was 27 and left two children behind: Alyssa, 8 years old, and Eric III, 4 months.

Mayor, you tweeted that Erica’s death was “a horrible tragedy,” adding: “I am praying for her family, who have already been through so much. This city will miss her unshakable sense of justice and passion for humanity.”

But you can do more than tweet and pray. You can honor Erica and her family, and, perhaps most of all, her sense of justice, by following some very specific instructions Erica left behind for you. I have them.

I’m not a close friend or relative of Erica Garner’s; I never even met her in person. I just happen to be one of the last people to interview Erica before she died. In late November, I received an email from her with the subject line “Third Anniversary of the failure to indict officer Daniel Pantaleo 12/3.” It read:

“In light of the 3rd anniversary of the non indictment of the man that killed my father I plan on highlighting the following points:

· That de Blasio refuses to release the records of Daniel Pantaleo in spite of recommendation of the CCRB.

· That de Blasio has failed to fire Daniel Pantaleo . . .

· That de Blasio refuses to make the chokehold illegal.”

Though Erica’s gone, these injustices remain. But you, mayor, can rectify them. You will, no doubt, say that some or all of these things are out of your hands. But each and every one of the demands are things you could fix if you wanted to.

Release Daniel Pantaleo’s records . Thanks to an anonymous employee at the Civilian Review Complaint Board who leaked internal files, we know that even before his lethal confrontation with Eric Garner, Pantaleo had 14 allegations and seven formal complaints filed against him, four of which were substantiated by the CCRB.

In one case, The CCRB recommended the harshest non-criminal punishment — administrative prosecution in the NYPD trial room, which can lead to lost vacation days, suspension, or termination — but the NYPD went with less severe punishment. In another case, the CCRB recommended Pantaleo lose eight vacation days, but he only lost two.

Ironically, when it comes to revelations of abusive police behavior, the one person who has been punished (besides victims like Eric, who paid the ultimate penalty) is the employee who leaked them — as opposed to, say, the one who perpetrated it. You argue that your hands are tied because the law bans releasing such records. But the city had made that kind of information public for decades until you abruptly decided to re-interpret the law in April 2016.

Fire Daniel Pantaleo. As Erica knew, it is an outrage that Pantaleo remains on the police force, and receives a salary, with overtime and raises. You’ve said you’re waiting for a federal civil rights investigation to conclude. But as mayor, Rudy Giuliani, hardly known for being tough on the police, fired Francis Livoti — the police officer who killed Anthony Baez in a chokehold — before his federal trial had wrapped up.

Make the chokehold illegal. You have said that you would veto any bill that criminalizes the use of chokeholds by NYPD officers because the move is already prohibited by the NYPD, which banned it in 1993. That’s true. But if bans were sufficient, we wouldn’t need laws. And the ban certainly didn’t prevent Pantaleo from killing Eric Garner, or Livoti from killing Baez.

You’ve also said criminalizing the chokehold would unfairly punish officers who use it as a last resort to defend themselves. As you know know, no officer who used a chokehold in self-defense would ever be charged with a crime.

Hear Erica’s cries. Erica Garner did not mince words, nor shy away from criticism, as you know better than most. Yet she had high hopes at first about you, as she told me in our interview: “In the beginning he seemed . . . very supportive. De Blasio actually sat with my grandfather . . . in the church. When the (non-)indictment came down my grandfather was so emotional, crying and couldn’t believe it . . . and (de Blasio) actually called my grandfather aside, to console him and talk to him.”

But Erica came to “believe that he’s blocking any type of justice my family’s seeking.” And though she feared a second term would bring “more of the same” from you, she never gave up believing in justice and change and you.

She told me, “I’m hoping that he’ll hear my cries.” Will you listen?

Halper is host of “The Katie Halper Show,” a WBAI/Pacifica radio show and podcast.

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