The chokehold death of an unarmed black man by a New York City police officer this summer was unfortunate, but former city Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik told Newsmax on Wednesday that he supported a decision by a grand jury not to indict the eight-year police officer at the center of the case.
"It's an unfortunate tragedy what happened," Kerik said. "You cannot resist arrest.
"If Eric Garner did not resist arrest, the outcome in this case would have been very different," he added. "He wouldn't be dead today. That's the reality.
"It's unfortunate. I didn't see all of the evidence that the grand jury did. I didn't hear the testimony they did, but obviously they had to make a determination whether the police officers used the necessary force to effect that arrest — and that's the determination they made."
Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan announced that the grand jury had declined to indict Patrolman Daniel Pantaleo
in the July 17 death of Eric Garner, 43. He died after Pantaleo and three other officers tried to arrest him for allegedly selling cigarettes illegally on a street in Staten Island.
Pantaleo, 29, put Garner in a chokehold as the officers tackled him.
In August, the city's medical examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide, saying the officers killed him by compressing his neck and chest.
Garner also had health problems, including asthma and obesity, and the medical examiner said those contributed to his death. He stood 6-foot-3 and weighed 350 pounds.
The arrest was captured on video and was widely viewed on the Internet. In it, Garner — a father of six — can be heard telling officers repeatedly "I can't breathe" as they restrained him on the ground.
The footage fueled debate over police use of excessive force, particularly against minorities. The New York City Police Department's patrol manual prohibits chokeholds, calling them dangerous.
The 23-member grand jury was reportedly composed of 14 whites and nine non-whites. At least 12 jurors must agree to bring an indictment.
Donovan said that all of the jurors attended every session in the case, which began on Sept. 29 and ended on Wednesday. Pantaleo was the only officer facing charges in the incident. The others were granted immunity for their testimony.
Pantaleo was the last person to testify, on Nov. 21, The New York Times
reports. He had been stripped of his gun and badge and given a desk assignment. He remains under departmental investigation.
Staten Island is the smallest of New York City's five boroughs.
Attorney General Eric Holder said late Wednesday that the Justice Department would conduct a federal investigation into the case to determine whether Garner's civil rights were violated.
"Our prosecutors will conduct an independent, thorough, fair and expeditious investigation," Holder said.
Pantaleo expressed condolences to Garner's family.
"I became a police officer to help people and to protect those who can't protect themselves," he said. "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."
Patrick Lynch, president of the New York City Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said that "while we are pleased with the grand jury's decision, there are no winners."
"There was a loss of life that both a family and a police officer will always have to live with," Lynch added. "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."
The New York decision comes nine days after a grand jury in Missouri declined to indict Darren Wilson, a white police officer, in the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown, 18, an African-American man who was also unarmed, in Ferguson, Missouri.
That decision sparked widespread violence, with many businesses in Ferguson burned down and looted. Wilson later resigned from the force.
Garner's family slammed the grand jury's decision, which his widow, Esaw, said "was like a modern-day lynching."
"They had it out for him," she told the Rev. Al Sharpton on his CNBC
His stepfather, Ben Carr, told The Staten Island Advance
that "there is no justice system" in the United States.
"Whites can kill blacks, but not the other way around," he said. "Who can control the police department? We had a damn videotape."
In 1993, then-NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly prohibited the use of chokeholds, but despite the ban, NYPD officers allegedly still use them. Between 2009 and mid-2014, the Civilian Complaint Review Board received 1,128 chokehold allegations, said its chairman, Richard Emery, the Huffington Post
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference Wednesday that the grand jury's decision marked "a very emotional day for our city. It's a very painful day for so many New Yorkers."
"We're grieving again over the loss of Eric Garner, who was a father, a husband, a son, a good man, a man who should be with us and isn't," he said.
De Blasio and New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, as well as members of the Garner family, urged residents to protest peacefully.
Demonstrators immediately took to the streets, however — with about 40 staging a "die-in" on the floor of Grand Central Terminal at the evening rush hour and as many as 300 gathering in Times Square.
"No indictment is denial," they chanted. "We want a public trial."
In Washington, President Barack Obama
said Garner's death underscored the need to strengthen the trust and accountability between communities and law enforcement. He held meetings at the White House on Monday in response to the Ferguson unrest.
"It is incumbent on all of us as Americans, regardless of race, region, faith, that we recognize this as an American problem and not just a black problem or a brown problem or a native American problem," Obama said. "When anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law, that's a problem. And it's my job as president to help solve it."
But just as protesters pointed to the tape of Garner's arrest as an example of excessive force by New York City police, Kerik told Newsmax that the footage also showed that he did not cooperate with authorities.
"Clearly, Garner resisted," he said. "He was non-compliant — and regardless of what that arrest was for, the officers, unfortunately, don't have the ability to say, 'Well, this is a minor arrest, so we're going to just ignore you, or we're going to let you go.'
"Once they advise you that you're under arrest, you have to comply. Whether they were arresting him for selling cigarettes or they were arresting him for some violent crime, once you resist, by law, they have the right to use as much force as necessary to take you into custody."
Kerik, who headed the city's police force from 2000 to 2001, said the best time to improve ties between the police and citizens is before such tragedies happen.
"Community relations have to start long before there's some incident that occurs in your community," he told Newsmax. "It's really up to the police department, up to the municipalities, to get out into their communities, know the community leaders.
"If the communities have problems with the police department, make it known, work those problems out with the city officials.
"That's how you build community relations," Kerik added. "You don't do it in the aftermath. You have to be pre-emptive in these things, proactive — and it's unfortunate that many communities don't have that."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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