A day after the NYC medical examiner ruled that a chokehold had caused Eric Garner’s death, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Garner’s family called for the arrest of the police officer who had performed an apparent chokehold on Garner.
Sharpton said the ruling is “probable cause” for the quick arrest of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, and that the Staten Island district attorney, Daniel Donovan, “needs to say, ‘I’m moving forward to an arrest’ or ‘I’m deferring to the federal government.'”
Community activists have been charging the officer with killing Garner for weeks, while others speculated that Garner, who weighed between 350 and 400 pounds, died from cardiac arrest.
Garner’s family joined Sharpton for a Saturday rally in Harlem to share their reactions to the examiner’s ruling and call for the officer’s arrest.
“When I heard the coroner’s report, I said ‘Glory be the God’; I told the Lord, I’ve been praying,” said Gwen Carr, Garner’s mother. “I know sometimes we think the Lord’s slow in answering our prayers, but believe me he’s right on time.”
Garner’s death became a cause célèbre after a videotape of him being arrested by police officers for selling loose cigarettes went viral on social media, where he could be heard saying “I can’t breathe,” repeatedly.
“After I saw the video, I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep; I would wake up screaming, ‘Let him go, give him air,'” said Garner’s mother.
Sharpton announced a march across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York City to protest Garner’s death, scheduled for Aug. 23 to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the death of Yusef Hawkins, a black Brooklyn teenager who was the victim of a hate crime.
“Those in charge need to be charged with the anger and the dreams of a community that feels it has been ignored, and that’s the job of civil rights activists,” Sharpton said.
Sharpton also said that he was creating a fund to send Garner’s son, also named Eric, to college.
“We’re going to make sure you go to college; that was your daddy’s dream,” he told the 18-year-old.
City officials were swift to respond to the medical examiner’s report, with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito labeling Garner’s death “a homicide” in a statement Saturday. Others were more reserved.
“We will continue to cooperate with the Richmond County District Attorney’s Office, which is the lead investigative entity in this case,” Police Commissioner William Bratton said in a statement.
Sharpton has been a vociferous critic of Bratton after the Garner incident. In a City Hall roundtable earlier this week where he sat next to the mayor and the commissioner, Sharpton branded the NYPD’s “broken windows” policy of cracking down on minor crimes as racist, but stopped short of calling on Bratton to resign when asked by reporters.
Continuing his even-handed rhetoric concerning the Garner incident, Mayor de Blasio said in a statement that everyone had to work to “heal the wounds from decades of mistrust.”
The mayor also signaled his continued support for the commissioner, whom he called “the finest police leader” in America at the roundtable.
“[Fostering mutual respect between the police and the community], a responsibility that Commissioner Bratton and I take very seriously,” de Blasio said. “I’ve said that we would make change, and we will.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.