NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The Rev. Al Sharpton gave a passionate speech Wednesday evening, as friends, family members, and community leaders came together to remember Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who who died while in police custody after a struggle.
To thunderous cheers at the Bethel Baptist Church in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, Sharpton argued that the officers involved in Garner’s arrest last Thursday – one of whom appeared on video putting him in a choke hold – need to face more serious consequences than those that have been promised so far.
“The choke hold is illegal. But even if you lost your training memory, a man in your arm saying, ‘I can’t breathe’ – when does your decency kick in? When does your morality kick in?” Sharpton said. “Let’s not play games with this. You don’t need no training to stop choking a man saying, ‘I can’t breathe.’ You don’t need no cultural orientation to stop choking a man saying, ‘I can’t breathe.’ You need to be prosecuted.”
PHOTOS: Eric Garner Funeral
Sharpton excoriated both the officers involved and the emergency medical personnel who responded after Garner was on the ground, who Sharpton said made no effort to revive him.
“Don’t you know the definition of emergency?” he said.
As 1010 WINS’ Holli Haerr reported, Sharpton talked about other cases where black men were killed by police or died in police custody, but noted that the Garner incident was videotaped.
“This time, we don’t want no excuses, no back-biting,” Sharpton said. “Go to the tape.”
As CBS 2’s Hazel Sanchez reported, others who spoke at the service likewise said they would not let Garner die in vain.
“We must take this as a call to ourselves,” said the Rev. Chris Smith. “People will only do what we allow them to do to us.”
Strangers also attended, including the families of Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell – two men who also died in police-involved incidents.
“(Garner) loved his friends. He loved his community, and he would lend a helping hand to anyone he came into contact with,” one woman said.
Public Advocate Letitia James also attended the funeral, and said her office will demand policy changes at the NYPD.
“I can say to you that we will demand justice in the city of New York. I say to you that there will be a full and complete investigation – not only of the use of choke holds, but all of the individuals who have filed complaints within the civilian complaint review board. I say to you tonight that we will demand that all street encounters going forward be videotaped in the city of New York so that we can avoid this from happening again. I say to you tonight that I join with police Commissioner Bratton in urging that every police officer be retrained, but more important than that, that they be culturally sensitive and respect the rights and dignity of all suspects and individuals,” she said.
Sharpton said he will begin meeting with the Garner family to begin pursuing a civil rights lawsuit against the NYPD.
The memorial service came a day after demonstrators marched through the streets on Tuesday to demand swift justice for the 43-year-old father of six.
An amateur video of Garner’s arrest shows an officer putting him in a choke hold after he refuses to be handcuffed.
The tactic is banned by the NYPD, but has been the subject of more than 1,000 complaints to the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board over the last five years. But the technique is not illegal under state law.
Police were arresting Garner on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes.
The video of the arrest shows an officer putting his arm around Garner’s neck as Garner is taken to the ground and his face is pushed into the sidewalk. Garner, before losing consciousness, is heard yelling repeatedly, “I can’t breathe!”
A crowd gathered on the sidewalk during the funeral as tempers flared, WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reported.
Those attending the funeral hoped Garner’s family would find some closure.
“I really hope that the family will be able to somehow get some strength together and come through this,” said one of the mourners, Bishop Michael Clarke said before the funeral.
Longtime friend Earl Sims told 1010 WINS’ Al Jones he feels a mixture of sorrow and anger.
“It’s not right. It’s not fair. We need justice – if we have to march, or whatever it takes just to do this right,” Sims said.
Another friend of Garner’s, Sakina Matthews, said repeatedly seeing the video of the police takedown of Garner has taken its toll.
“Over and over, no matter what channel I turned to, I couldn’t get away from seeing the police murder my friend,” Matthews said.
Sims and Matthews said they believe the choke hold killed Garner and said the officers involved should already have been arrested.
Even strangers came to the church to say their final farewells to Garner.
“I’m one of his mother’s co-workers,” said mourner Billy Turner. “I just wanted to pay, you know, respects to the family, you know. It’s a shame what happened, but unfortunately, it happened.”
“My heart goes out all the way out with them, because even though I’m not personally related to them, I feel connected to him because I’m connected to people that have been brutalized or killed by a police officer,” said Donna Carter of Boerum Hill.