When Bill de Blasio began his introductory remarks for Wednesday’s Democratic debate, a thin chant emerged from the crowd. During the opener from New Jersey senator Cory Booker, it rang out to the point of interruption: “Fire Pantaleo.”
Daniel Pantaleo is the police officer who, on July 17, 2014, put Staten Island resident Eric Garner in a chokehold for allegedly selling loose cigarettes without a license. After Garner yelled out “I can’t breathe” 11 times while facedown on the sidewalk, he lost consciousness and was pronounced dead at a Staten Island hospital one hour later. Police officers and EMTs did not perform CPR at the scene.
Though the incident was filmed and an extensive investigation was conducted, on July 16, 2019, Attorney General William Barr ordered that a federal civil-rights charges against Pantaleo be dropped. Per the New York Times:
[In 2014] A Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was captured on a video wrapping his arm around Mr. Garner’s neck. The federal civil rights investigation dragged on for five years amid internal disputes in the Justice Department, under both President Barack Obama and President Trump.
In the end, Mr. Barr made the call not to seek a civil rights indictment against Officer Pantaleo, just before a deadline for filing some charges expired.
His intervention settled the disagreement between prosecutors in the civil rights division, which has pushed for an indictment, and Brooklyn prosecutors, who never believed the department could win such a case.
Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD delayed disciplinary action in order to stay clear of a possible prosecution by the Justice Department. (Two weeks ago, de Blasio called that decision a “mistake.”) Now that the DOJ has passed, calls are emerging for the Police Department to force Pantaleo out.
About an hour in, the candidates began discussing the death of Eric Garner. Kirsten Gillibrand said that Pantaleo should be “fired now,” and Bill de Blasio asked how Joe Biden used position as vice-president to aid the DOJ investigation into the police officer. Julián Castro endorsed ending “qualified immunity for police officers so we can hold them accountable for using excessive force.” Jake Tapper continued to pronounce Garner’s name “Eric Gardener.”
Later, as Joe Biden discussed the immigration crisis, another call came from the office protesting deportation, interrupting the former vice-president. The protestor came reportedly was connected with Movimiento Cosecha, a group calling for “Democratic candidates to commit to stopping all deportations on day one in office.”