In 1963, in a Birmingham, Alabama jail cell, Martin Luther King, speaking of the ongoing struggle for civil and human rights by black Americans, wrote “Just too long delayed is justice denied”. Those words were true in 1963 and they still ring true in 2019.
Eric Garner was killed by a New York City police officer on July 17, 2014. His murder was captured in real time on video by multiple cellphones and his desperate cry of “I can’t breathe” was heard all over the world although his words fell on deaf NYPD ears. The fact that Mr. Garner’s encounter with the police was connected to the infinitely minor and absolutely nonviolent crime of his selling loose cigarettes (or “loosies”) made this particular blue on black crime even more tragic.
What we know is that several New York City police officers witnessed the murder of Eric Garner and did nothing to restrain Officer Daniel Pantaleo even as he was choking Mr. Garner to death. What we know is that the racist DNA of the American law enforcement system was on full display as the District Attorney of Staten Island, where the murder occurred, did not to seek to indict Pantaleo or any of the police officers for any offenses.
And what we know is that the Obama Administration Department of Justice, headed at the time of Garner’s murder by Eric Holder, and then in 2015 by Loretta Lynch, engaged in a civil rights investigation. Amazingly, this investigation could not come to a conclusion regarding the violation of the civil rights of the deceased Eric Garner, even though his murder was captured on videotape.
And what we know is that on November 9, 2016, then Attorney General Loretta Lynch knew that Donald Trump would be inaugurated as President of the United States on January 20, 2017 and that an Attorney General in the Trump administration would almost certainly put the Garner case into a bureaucratic dustbin. That meant that she had 73 days to make sure that the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice took some concrete steps to ensure that justice would be done in the Garner case. And nothing was done.
What we know is that the Department of Justice under the aegis of Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III slow walked the Garner case. What we know is that under the administration of Attorney General William Barr the Garner case was permanently buried in 2019, defying logic and common sense in concluding that there was not sufficient evidence that Eric Garner’s civil rights were violated.
What we do know is that throughout all of these meandering delays justice was too long delayed. And what we do know is that when Daniel Pantaleo was finally fired from his position in the NYPD justice had been denied to the Garner family. Mr. Pantaleo will never have to face criminal charges. He will spend the rest of his life as a free man – free to laugh and love and be with his family while Eric Garner remains in his grave and Mr. Garner’s family continues to grieve.
The conclusion must be that the firing of Daniel Pantaleo by the NYPD after five years of delay is that justice has not been served. And what we do know is that the Garner case is another sad illustration of the fact that black lives do not matter in these United States of America. And unless and until there is a basic commitment by governmental authorities and the citizens of this country to acknowledge and recognize the basic humanity of black Americans, it will be impossible to come to any other conclusion but that black lives do not matter.
There has been no justice in the Garner case. Indeed, justice has been too long delayed and justice has been denied.