On Thursday night, Staten Island man Eric Garner, 43, known affectionately as "Big E,"died while being arrested after an NYPD officer placed him in a chokehold. Garner, a father of six, was reportedly asthmatic. A disturbing video of the incident posted on Live Leak shows that Garner repeatedly said "I can't breathe!", sounding close to tears, as the police held him to the ground. The Staten Island Advance reports that Garner, who stood over 6 feet and weighed more than 350 pounds, was a fixture in the neighborhood who sometimes sold loose cigarettes for 50 cents apiece. Witnesses have said that Garner was trying to break up a fight in front of a beauty supply store.
Mayor Bill de Blasio issued a statement yesterday extending his condolences to Garner's family and promising he and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton would investigate the incident. He added, "We are harnessing all resources available to the City to ensure a full and thorough investigation of the circumstances of this tragic incident." De Blasio and Bratton are set to hold a live-streamed press conference this afternoon at 3:30. It'll play above when it's available.
Public Advocate Letitia James also issued a statement, pointing out that NYPD police prohibits chokeholds. "The video raises serious questions and it is important that we review whether departmental procedures were followed. There must be a swift investigation of this horrific incident," she said.
Communities United for Police Reform, a group that frequently calls attention to bad policing practices against New York communities of color, is furious. They, too, issued a statement, calling Garner's death "unacceptable and tragic," adding it's "yet another example of unnecessary police encounters resulting from broken windows-style policing that targets New Yorkers of color - in this case escalating with fatal consequences."
Chokeholds have been prohibited by NYPD policy since 1992. In 1994, Anthony Baez, a 29-year-old Bronx security guard and college student who was also asthmatic, died after he was placed in a chokehold during a chaotic arrest. The incident reportedly began when Baez's football hit a police department patrol car.
Here is the video of Garner's arrest that was posted to Live Leak. It's upsetting. Be warned.