A Staten Island grand jury has elected not to bring charges against NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for killing 43-year-old Eric Garner in chokehold. Garner, an African-American man, was killed on July 17 while under arrest for the suspected sale of untaxed cigarettes. A video of the violent encounter — which shows the white officer's hands around the neck of Garner, who had asthma, while he screamed, "I can't breathe" — quickly went viral, and the Medical Examiner’s office ruled his death a homicide soon thereafter.
The grand jury's decision today means Pantaleo will not have to answer for his actions before a jury of his peers. And, while an indictment would not have guaranteed a conviction or jail time for Pantaleo, it would at least have allowed the case to be tried in criminal court. Statistically speaking, it is incredibly rare for grand juries to vote against indictment.
This decision comes on the heels of the announcement that another white officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri — a decision that has led to outrage and mass protests across the country. New York City is now preparing for similar fallout because of the politically and racially charged nature of the allegations and widespread concerns that law enforcement is abusing its power over the civilians it's meant to protect.
"People have a right to protest peacefully and we will respect that right," Mayor Bill de Blasio said when asked about whether riots in New York are likely. "But, if we think public safety is compromised, then the police will act very assertively to address that problem."
On December 2, de Blasio announced that the NYPD would be participating in a pilot program for officers to wear body cameras, in the hopes of curtailing violence against citizens like Michael Brown and Eric Garner. While this initiative may be a step in the right direction, it is unclear whether such action can truly begin to heal the damage already done, or address the larger racial divide between law enforcement and our communities.