NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The Rev. Al Sharpton said Tuesday night that a march will be held in Washington, D.C. later this month, following a grand jury decision not to indict an officer involved in the police custody death of Eric Garner.
Meanwhile, Garner’s wife Esaw said, “Hell no,” when asked if she would accept condolences from the officer. She added, “My husband’s death will not be in vain as long as I have breath in my body I will fight the fight till the end.
On Wednesday afternoon, a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in Garner’s apparent chokehold.
Sharpton said the Garner case, and the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri, were evidence that the state grand jury process cannot be depended upon to deliver justice.
“No amount of secret grand juries with local prosecutors that put up evidence that we do not know is going to stop people from raising the questions and demanding the answers,” Sharpton said.
“It’ been really hard since July 17th. I’m just trying to make sure that his death is not in vain – that it makes a change – that it makes a change for my sons as well as sons of other people that may be victims like I was a victim I didn’t choose to be a victim. I didn’t expect that when my husband left me that morning that I would never see him alive again,” said Garner’s wife.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced earlier Wednesday night that the Garner and Brown cases will be investigated by the Department of Justice. On Saturday, Dec. 13, Sharpton’s National Action Network will hold a national march to stop police violence and to ask federal authorities to prosecute the case.
Sharpton mentioned the Garner case, the Brown case in which a grand jury declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson, and most recently, the police-involved shooting that killed Tamir Rice, 12, in Cleveland.
“It is time for a national march to deal with a national crisis. Why a national march? Because we cannot be put around like social hamsters – one minute Ferguson, next minute New York, next minute Cleveland,” Sharpton said. “No, we’re going to bring Ferguson, Cleveland and all of New York to the nation’s capital to say enough is enough.”
The march is being held on Dec. 13 rather than the weekend before out of respect for memorial services for former Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry this past weekend.
“This is going to be a winter that we are going to freeze out police brutality in this country,” Sharpton said.
Officer Pantaleo released a statement Wednesday about the Garner case, saying: “I became a police officer to help people and to protect those who can’t protect themselves. It is never my intention to harm anyone and I feel very bad about the death of Mr. Garner. My family and I include him and his family in our prayers and I hope that they will accept my personal condolences for their loss.”
“He’s a 29 year old young individual, young adult who was really just doing his job that day and is very remorseful for the loss of a life but he was certainly relieved and very emotional when I told him what the results of the grand jury were,” Pantaleo’s attorney, Stu London, told 1010 WINS.
Garner’s wife, Esaw Garner, expressed no sympathy.
“Hell no,” said Esaw Garner said. “The time for remorse would have been when my husband was screaming to breathe. That would have been the time for him to show some type of remorse or some type of care for another human being’s life, when he was screaming 11 times that he can’t breathe.”
As CBS2’s Weijia Jiang reported, Garner’s wife physically tensed up and lunged forward as she spoke.
“No, I don’t accept his apology,” Esaw Garner continued. “No, I could care less about his condolences. No, I could care less. He’s still working, he’s still getting a paycheck, he’s still feeding his kids, and my husband is six feet under, and I’m looking for a way to feed my kids now. Who’s going to play Santa Claus for my grandkids this year? Cause he played Santa Claus for my grandkids — who’s going to do that now?”
Eric Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, said she had lost some faith in the justice system.
“How could we put our trust in the justice system when they fail us like this? They didn’t only fail me, they failed many of us. And if we don’t take care of this, they may fail you in the future,” she said.
On Thursday, the heads of Sharpton’s National Action Network, along with the National Urban League, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and the Black Women’s Roundtable will meet in New York City to discuss police misconduct issues and announce action to address the issues, according to a news release.
Richmond County District Attorney Daniel M. Donovan also expressed condolences in a statement.
“I first want to express my condolences to Eric Garner’s family for their loss, and to acknowledge the heartache of his mother, his wife, his children, as well as his other family members, loved ones, and friends, who have consistently carried themselves with grace during the past four months,” Donovan said in a statement.
Earlier, Mayor Bill de Blasio called Wednesday a “deeply emotional day” for not just the Garner family, but all New Yorkers.
“His death was a terrible tragedy that no family should have to endure. This is a subject that is never far from my family’s minds – or our hearts. And Eric Garner’s death put a spotlight on police-community relations and civil rights – some of most critical issues our nation faces today,” de Blasio said in a statement.
Anticipating protests, Staten Island Borough President James Oddo appealed to people to keep the peace.
“Some folks here on Staten Island — our island, our home — will agree with the results, and many will not,” he said in a statement. “In this matter, the Garner family, the NYPD and the office of the Borough President speak with one voice when we say that disagreeing with the conclusion of the grand jury is your absolute right, and so is peacefully protesting the result and advocating for change.”
Many in Congress are furious.
“It should shock the conscience of every single American who cares about justice and fair play,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-Brooklyn/Queens.
“A human being was killed,” said Rep. Charles Rangel, D-Manhattan/Bronx. “He was surrounded by policemen. No one else touched him. And the grand jury did not say that he committed suicide. They didn’t say what happened. That’s why it’s important that the district attorney has an obligation to bring the facts to New York and the American people to see how they could have possibly stretched their imagination to reach that decision.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand spoke out, saying she is shocked by the decision and, along with Speaker of the New York City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito, will be calling on the Department of Justice to investigate.
De Blasio said he spoke Wednesday evening with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, whom Obama has tapped to succeed Holder, and that they have assured him a federal investigation in the case will move forward.
A Justice Department official confirmed to CBS News that it plans to announce it is opening a probe into Garner’s death.
“The death of Eric Garner is a tragedy that demands accountability. Nobody unarmed should die on a New York City street corner for suspected low-level offenses,” Gillibrand said in a statement.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo agreed a federal probe was in order.
“The circumstances surrounding his death were nothing short of tragic. And while there will be people who disagree with today’s grand jury decision, it is important that we respect the legal process and rule of law,” he said in a statement. “At the same time, the justice system also allows for additional investigations and reviews, and it may be appropriate for the federal government to do so in this case. And if there are improvements to be made and lessons to be learned, we at the state level are ready to act to better the system.”
However, Pantaleo’s attorney believes it best to let the grand jury’s decision stand.
“I think we have to respect whether it’s a petit jury or a grand jury whatever decision that they do issue, they’re the ones that deliberated, they’re the ones that heard all the evidence and I think we have to respect that decision,” London told 1010 WINS.
Public advocate Letitia James called the fact that there will be no public trial for Pantaleo “shocking and unconscionable.”
“We must eliminate the inherent conflict of interest when a district attorney seeks to indict members of the police department. To that end, I am calling on the governor and attorney general to create a special prosecutor in all cases involving police misconduct. Additionally, I will be requesting that the proceedings from this grand jury be made public,” her statement reads.
Patrick Lynch, president of Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, released a statement after the panel’s decision was revealed, saying: “While we are pleased with the Grand Jury’s decision, there are no winners here today. There was a loss of life that both a family and a police officer will always have to live with. It is clear that the officer’s intention was to do nothing more than take Mr. Garner into custody as instructed and that he used the take down technique that he learned in the academy when Mr. Garner refused. No police officer starts a shift intending to take another human being’s life and we are all saddened by this tragedy.”
Candace McCoy, a criminal justice professor at the CUNY Graduate Center, told CBSN it is challenging to pull together enough evidence “to show probable cause on what is a very serious charge of manslaughter.”
“You still have to show an intent,” she said. “And this is very difficult.”
President Barack Obama said the incident “speaks to the larger issues that we’ve been talking about now for the last week, the last month, the last year, and sadly for decades. And that is the concern on the part of too many minority communities that law enforcement is not working with them and dealing with them in a fair way.”
Councilman Rory Lancman spoke with WCBS 880, saying he was very surprised by the decision.
“We saw a video of an officer performing a prohibited chokehold, a chokehold that is prohibited by NYPD policy and has been for a couple of decades now,” he said.
Lancman said with the video of the incident, paired with the coroner’s report saying the chokehold was a substantial factor in his death, he is surprised that Pantaleo was not indicted for either second degree manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide.
“I just don’t see how you put the video together, you put the coroner’s report together, and you don’t get one of those two charges, at least as a charge to go to a trial and have a jury ultimately decide guilty or innocence,” he said.
Darius Charney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, however, told WCBS 880 the evidence “seemed pretty overwhelming.”
“We had video footage taken at the time of the killing showing the officer in question applying the chokehold,” he said. “We know from the medical examiner that the chokehold caused Mr. Garner’s death. And once again, as we heard unfortunately last weekend in Ferguson, Missouri, we have no accountability, no prosecution of an officer who unjustifiably took a civilian’s life.”
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