'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
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THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
December 3, 2014
Guest: Letitia James, Paul Butler
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, man.
CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST: You bet.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for being with us at this hour.
These are the live images that we`ve got right now of protests that are
continuing to spark in New York City. You`re looking here, I believe,
you`re looking at the island of Manhattan. I thought this was going to be
Times Square, but that doesn`t look like Times Square to me. Control room,
can you tell me if that`s Times Square?
I think that looks like the West Side Highway, but we`ll try to -- it is
West Side Highway in Manhattan. This is a shot of Times Square.
These crowds have grown pretty substantially in the last couple of hours
and are continuing to grow here in New York both at static locations like
around Rockefeller Center, the building from which we broadcast here in
midtown Manhattan, but also roving throughout the city.
We`ve got images also -- I think we`ve got images from Union Square in
Manhattan. Some large crowds gathered earlier in Union Square in downtown
This is the scene at the tree lighting ceremony in Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania, earlier this evening. You can see there`s chanting, carrying
signs at that city`s big holiday event. This is a nice composition here
with the dancers and then the stop killer cops sign in the foreground.
These signs here, this is from Washington, D.C., protesters at Dupont
Circle in D.C. chanting and holding signs. People saying, "Black lives
matter", saying, "I can`t breathe".
Protesters were also stopping traffic tonight in New Orleans. This is an
image from New Orleans. Again, people holding signs saying, "Black lives
This is what it looks like on the street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,
On the West Coast tonight, it looks like from early images we have that
protesters are beginning to coalesce in Los Angeles, online organizers have
been using the #latonyc.
This is St. Louis, Missouri, tonight where there were protests and arrests
outside the courthouse in downtown St. Louis, Missouri. If you`re having a
hard time right now telling the difference between the protests over the
killing of Michael Brown in St. Louis, Missouri, and the protests today and
tonight over the killing of Eric Garner in Staten Island, I have to tell
you that`s not an unreasonable thing to be confused about. This right here
is one of the protests over Eric Garner. But if this reminds you of what
the protests look over Michael Brown, that overlap is real, that confusion
These protests that you`re looking at here tonight again are going on about
Eric Garner in New York City and in other cities around the country.
They`re happening at the same time that the protests about Ferguson,
Missouri`s Michael Brown are still happening as well.
For example, these were images from Union Station, from the big train
station in Washington, D.C., just yesterday. We also have images from the
campus of American University, also in Washington, D.C. These were just
These were the protests about the killing of Michael Brown. But these
protests took place hours before the grand jury announcement was made about
the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island.
And so, part of what you are seeing tonight in New York and elsewhere is a
direct response to the Eric Garner killing and nobody being charged for
having killed Eric Garner in Staten Island this past July.
But part of what you`re seeing in these protests right now is a cumulative
thing. I mean, each of these cases is different. Each has its own and
stands on its own terms and is a tragedy. But hard to see them as stand-
alone incidents when they are a pattern of similar deaths, similar cases
that keep happening in all different parts of the country.
I mean, one of the things that happened today in addition to the continuing
Ferguson protests about Michael Brown, in addition to the new Eric Garner
protests about the grand jury announcement regarding the Eric Garner case,
one of the things that happened in addition to that today was also the
funeral of 12-year-old Tamir Rice who was shot and killed by police
officers in Cleveland, Ohio, 12 days ago. Tamir Rice`s middle school
teacher spoke today at his funeral.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TAMIR RICE`S TEACHER, CLEVELAND, OHIO: Tamir enjoyed life. It just exuded
from his very being. He loved to joke around and compete against other
students. Tamir talked often of his mother and was very protective of his
mother. Tamir consistently -- came to school every single day. He didn`t
miss a day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: He didn`t miss a day.
The funeral for 12-year-old Tamir Rice who was shot and killed by Cleveland
police in a park ten days ago, that 12-year-old boy`s funeral was held this
morning in Ohio. Then, just after 2:00 this afternoon Eastern Time, word
came down from a grand jury in Staten Island, New York, that they would be
bringing no charges against any New York City police officer for the
choking death of 43-year-old Eric Garner.
Eric Garner died while police were trying to arrest him for selling loose
cigarettes for 50 cents a piece near the Staten Island ferry terminal.
That`s what they thought he was doing. That`s what they thought they were
trying to arrest him for and he died in custody.
The grand jury`s decision was leaked first. It was announced then in early
afternoon. And these protests you see springing up in Manhattan at first
sprang up organically in response to that. In response to that
announcement, I should tell you that more protests in more places are
planned for tomorrow and nobody knows how big those protests will be or
what their overall character will be.
But the Eric Garner case in Staten Island is not a case in which any of the
protests and upset around that case have been violent or riotous in the
This is an interesting distinction. A big part of the reason the story of
Michael Brown became a touchstone about race and civil rights and policing
and violence is because the local community in Ferguson, Missouri, after
that killing reacted so angrily and with so much vehemence after young
Michael Brown was shot. The rioting, the police response to the rioting,
those huge at times violent confrontations in the streets around suburban
St. Louis, around that Michael Brown case, that was what turned that case
into such a huge point of national conversation and national anger.
The Eric Garner case has not like that before now. And it`s an important
distinction to make. I mean, what happened in the Eric Garner case was
this. July 17th, Eric Garner was approached by police on the street in
Staten Island, again near the Staten Island ferry terminal. Reportedly,
police approached him because he was illegally selling untaxed, individual
So, you don`t want the buy a whole pack, this guy on the street will sell
you a cigarette for 50 cents. Technically, yes, that is a crime. It is
not the world`s worst crime.
While plainclothes police officers were trying to arrest Eric Garner, one
officer grabbed him by the neck from behind. Mr. Garner stumbled. He fell
to the ground. At least three other officers converged on him, held him
down forcibly. And he died there on the street.
This video of the incident was posted online several hours after the
incident happened. It was posted online by the "New York Daily News." The
video was taken by a bystander on a cell phone that very clearly shows this
very disturbing scene on that street in Staten Island in July. It clearly
shows the one officer grabbing Mr. Garner by the neck and then others
holding hit head down by force, jamming him into the pavement.
The tape also clearly captured Eric Garner saying what turned out to be his
dying words, saying, "I can`t breathe, I can`t breathe, I can`t breathe, I
can`t breathe, I can`t breathe, I can`t breathe", saying it at least eight
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC GARNER: Don`t touch me. Do not touch me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Damn, man.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s down. He`s down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Put your hands, buddy.
GARNER: I can`t breathe. I can`t breathe. I can`t breathe. I can`t
breathe. I can`t breathe. I can`t breathe. I can`t breathe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: "I can`t breathe, I can`t breathe", over and over again.
Eric Garner was killed in that incident, killed by police on July 17th.
That night, "The New York Daily News", as I said, posted this very
disturbing video online. A few days later, there was a small protest in
Staten Island by people who were upset about the Eric Garner killing.
But that protest in Staten Island, it was not like what had happened in the
streets of Ferguson after Michael Brown was killed. It wasn`t until
August. In August, the results of the autopsy performed on Eric Garner`s
body were released and the autopsy results were very stark and very blunt
and very upsetting to a lot of people.
"The New York Daily News" report the day that the medical examiner`s report
was released, their article about it started with these words, "It was a
homicide and the chokehold killed him." It was a very blunt report from
the New York City medical examiner. It said Eric Garner was killed in a
homicide, and what killed him was a compression of his neck and chest by
those police officers who everybody saw doing exactly that in that very
Medical examiner`s report was released in August. And then there was the
huge protest that New York City saw over the killing of Eric Garner.
Saturday, August 23rd, thousands participated in a protest over Eric
Garner`s death. It was -- it was very large and therefore it was
disruptive in the fact that it had traffic routed around it and it brought
up a large police presence. But that protest was entirely peaceful, that
giant August protest against the killing of Eric Garner.
This Eric Garner case is not one that people have been worried about
nationwide, but there`s been rioting about it already, there`s been
violence in the streets about it already. There hasn`t been, at all.
There`s been only peaceful protest about the Eric Garner case since it
The only reason this case has been a source of national upset and national
concern and national worry about what the response might be if a decision
was made that nobody should be charged in this death, the reason in this
case that there`s been a cause for national concern is because of this
video. It`s not because people have behaved badly in their anger over what
happened to Eric Garner, it`s because of this video which shows what
happened, which is very hard at a laymen`s level to square with the idea
that when this man died, it was nobody`s fault.
In section 203-11 of the New York Police Department`s patrol guide it`s
made very clear that police officers are not allowed to choke people.
Quote, "Members of the New York City Police Department will not use
chokeholds. A chokehold shall include but is not limited to any pressure
to the throat or windpipe which may prevent or hinder breathing or reduce
intake of air."
Police officers are not supposed to use chokeholds. Very clearly they do.
The civilian complaint review board for the New York Police Department says
over the past four years, they`ve received more than a thousand citizen
complaints of police officers using chokeholds. And out of over 1,000
complaints about police officers using chokeholds, precisely nine officers
have been disciplined over that same time period for using chokeholds.
Of those nine officers who were disciplined for using chokeholds, none were
given a harsher sanction than the loss of some vacation days.
And it`s not just statistical information about this. We`ve also got some
disturbing anecdotal information about this, like the video of Eric Garner
being choked to death. Like this video showing police officers seeming to
put a kid in a pretty brutal chokehold for the alleged crime of jumping the
turnstile at a subway station to beat the fare.
The last time a New York City police officer was charged with killing one
using chokehold was 20 years ago in 1994. It was a young man named Anthony
Baez. He was killed in the Bronx by a police officer who choked him after
a football that Anthony Baez was playing with bounced off the officer`s
In that case, a grand jury did decide that the officer should be put on
trial for killing Anthony Baez by choking him to death. But at trial, that
officer was acquitted. Then, that same officer was brought up on charges
again in federal court. And in federal court, the officer was convicted
and sentenced to seven years in prison. That`s the last time a New York
police officer was charged for choking someone.
In the Eric Garner case, the police officer who put Eric Garner in a choke
hold before he died is till on the police force. Although while the grand
jury was investigating this case, he was put on desk duty. He was not
carrying his gun. It`s still unclear whether the NYPD will keep on the
force, or will discipline in any way for his involvement in this incident,
now that we know that local charges will not be brought against that
It`s also unclear whether or not federal charges might be brought in this
case as well, like they were in the Anthony Baez case 20 years ago.
Late tonight, Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed that the just
department has opened a federal probe into the death of Eric Garner. If
the local federal prosecutor, local U.S. attorney does decide to bring
charges in this case, it`s worth noting that the local U.S. prosecutor
here, the local U.S. attorney in this jurisdiction is this woman. She`s
named Loretta Lynch. And she has just been nominated by President Obama to
succeed Eric Holder as the next attorney general of the United States.
She`s got jurisdiction here.
Joining us from Staten Island live is Trymaine Lee, national reporter for
Trymaine, thanks very much for being with us. I appreciate your time.
TRYMAINE LEE, MSNBC NATIONAL REPORTER: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: So, Trymaine, in terms of the reaction in Staten Island, it seems
like the protests tonight have been centered in Manhattan, and we`re
starting to see reports about protests in a lot of other major cities as
well. What`s been the reaction in Staten Island tonight?
LEE: So, I`m standing just several yards from where Eric Garner died in
that June -- that July day. And unlike some of the other protest, it
hasn`t been raucous here. It hasn`t been overly angry, but there`s a
feeling that there`s a weight and a kind of hopelessness.
Folks who had not necessarily expected that there would be an indictment
but there was always hope that there would be an indictment.
And few minutes ago, over in the corner not far from here, I spoke to a
young man named Aaron who looked me in the eye and said, where do we go
from here? What can we do? Even when it`s on video, he said, and an
officer is seen choking a man, we can`t get justice there. If not here,
And so, that`s the sense. When you talk to folks on the ground, there`s
kind of a confusion. They don`t understand, one, how this officer in this
situation could not be indicted but then couple that with the Mike Brown
situation, the John Crawford situation, the young man who was -- 12-year-
old shot with a toy gun. And it all comes together in that kind of sense
of do black lives matter? That kind of familiar chant we`ve heard over and
over again, do black lives matter?
And so, in this case, of course, there hasn`t been the leaks that we saw in
the Ferguson case so we don`t know exactly how the grand jury came to this
conclusion, but absent of that, folks here on the ground see that video
over and over again, those gut wrenching pleas from Eric Garner saying I
And so, that`s the feeling here on Staten Island where he was from. It`s
not anger. It`s not outrage necessarily, but just on the surface, it`s a
lot of hurt, frustration and now, folks are trying to figure out where they
move from here.
MADDOW: Trymaine Lee, national reporter for MSNBC, at the site of Eric
Garner`s death in Staten Island tonight -- Trymaine, thank you. I know
we`ll be checking back with you. Appreciate it.
I want to go now to Anne Thompson. She`s in midtown Manhattan. She`s
actually walking with some of the protesters who have been essentially
doing a roving protest around parts of midtown.
Anne, can you tell us where you are and what`s going on right now in the
ANNE THOMPSON, NBC NEWS CORRESONDENT: Rachel, we`re on Broadway. We just
turned down off of 51st Street. This is a march that began at 49th and
Fifth and move around.
There are now hundreds of protesters who have taken over Broadway. They`re
crying for justice. Right now, they`re chanting, "I can`t breathe." Those
are the words that Eric Garner spoke on that video that people have seen as
he was being held down by the police.
THOMPSON: Another (INAUDIBLE) cry for justice. I asked protesters and I
said, what is justice after the grand jury decided not to indict the police
officer? They said they lost in local court. They want to go to federal
court because they believe this is a case that demands a trial and they
want to see a trial -- Rachel.
MADDOW: Anne Thompson in midtown Manhattan with protesters. Anne, we`ll
be checking back in with you. Thank you.
As Anne Thompson said there, she`s in midtown Manhattan. Part of the
reason that there`s been a lot of focus in midtown is because the tree
lighting ceremony happened at Rockefeller Center which is located quite
near to where Anne was and where our studios are.
One of the other main locuses (ph) of protest tonight has been on one of
the main north south arteries in Manhattan, the West Side Highway. Our
RACHEL MADDOW SHOW producer Kate Osborn has been out in the street with
some of the marchers for several hours now.
And I understand, Kate, that you`re close to the West Side Highway or on
the west side with protesters. Where are you now and what`s going on?
KATE OSBORN, MSNBC PRODUCER (via telephone): Hi, Rachel, I`m on 12th
Avenue which is the West Side Highway and 57th Street. Right now,
protesters have shut down both sides of the highway, north and south.
A majority of them are sitting down and peacefully protesting and blocking
the intersection. A lot have stopped chanting and are just lying down and
holding their signs. The police have them blocked in so there isn`t much
movement at this point.
MADDOW: Kate, in terms of the way the protesters have been interacting
with police and the way police have been treating them, obviously, it`s a
big deal in terms of disruption to the city to block a major artery
particularly both directions like that, and we`ve seen that in roving
How confrontational is it between police and protesters and what`s the
attitude of the police toward the protesters?
OSBORN: Well, it`s been interesting because I followed them from midtown
all the way west, and when we are in midtown closer to Rockefeller Center,
where the celebration was happening with the tree lighting, the police were
a lot more -- it seemed heated. There was a moment, a bit of violence
where a barricade got knocked over. And as we moved away from that area,
there was less and less tension and for the most part, it`s been guiding as
the protesters move, the police move with them. Occasionally, they set up
extreme blockades people with motorcycles and so forth.
But as of right now, they`re staying with them and there`s a huge police
presence, but they`re allowing them to freely move.
MADDOW: All right. RACHEL MADDOW SHOW producer Kate Osborn, we`re looking
at a live shot right now from your location. Kate, thanks. I know we`ll
be checking back in with you again.
Trymaine Lee that we just spoke to, was in Staten Island, which, of course,
is where the death of Eric Garner happened, where Mr. Garner and his family
are from. And as we saw, with talking to Trymaine, things are quiet
tonight in Staten Island.
Things are not quiet in Manhattan, in midtown Manhattan. The Rockefeller
Center tree lighting ceremony has been under way for a couple of years.
That always brings thousands of people to midtown.
In addition to those people coming to celebrate that event tonight, there
were people other people tonight coming here specifically to that event
because it was such a locus of attention in New York city to protest the
death of Eric Garner, but the protests have been all over the city, in
Union Square, in Times Square, and as we heard from our producer Kate
Osborn, along the West Side Highway blocking both lanes of traffic. If
that continues, we can probably expect arrests in terms of police not
allowing those blockades to last very long. We have heard police say they
would give protesters room to let themselves known.
But we`re going to be watching this closely over the course of the night.
Much more to come with us. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some of you may have heard,
there was a decision that came out today by a grand jury not to indict
police officers who had interacted with an individual named Eric Garner in
New York City.
I just got off the phone with my attorney general, Eric Holder. He will
have more specific comments about the case in New York, but I want
everybody to know here, as well as everybody who may be viewing my remarks
here today -- we are not going to let up until we see a strengthening of
the trust and a strengthening of the accountability that exists between our
communities and our law enforcement.
When anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law,
that`s a problem. And it`s my job as president to help solve it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was President Obama speaking earlier tonight about the grand
jury decision in Staten Island to not indict the New York City police
officer involved in the choking death of 43-year-old Eric Garner this
Look at this picture. This is Eric Garner`s mother and his widow watching
President Obama make those remarks today. As they`re watching, you see who
is there with them. He`s standing alongside Reverend Al Sharpton.
Reverend Al has been at the center of this case in response to it for
months ever since Eric Garner`s death in July, he`s held rallies with the
Garner family here in New York City as the legal process has been
Earlier this month, he also spoke at Eric Garner`s funeral.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: When you can, in broad
daylight, choke one of God`s children, God expects us to stand up and
demand justice and fairness and quit acting like that`s just one of those
things. This is not just one of those things.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Reverend Sharpton has been meeting with the Garner family late
tonight. He also spoke with the Attorney General Eric Holder shortly after
this grand jury decision was announced today.
Late tonight, as you`ve heard, Attorney General Eric Holder also announced
that the federal Department of Justice has opened a federal investigation
into Eric Garner`s death.
Joining us now live is Reverend Al Sharpton, president of the National
Action Network and host "POLITICS NATION" here on MSNBC.
Rev. Al, thanks very much for being here. I know it`s a busy time for you.
SHARPTON: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: I know you`ve been with Eric Garner`s family tonight. How are
they doing and what`s their reaction to this news today?
SHARPTON: Well, they are absolutely outraged, but not surprised. We had
said from the beginning when this happened in July that we wanted federal
intervention. There was no confidence in a local state grand jury in
And around the country, there is an intrinsic conflict with local
prosecutors dealing with local police because they work together hand in
glove in terms of cases. A prosecutor depends on the local police for all
of their cases, all of their evidence, which is why you need someone
outside of that arrangement, outside of that politics because local
prosecutors run for office, police unions are involved in either supporting
or not supporting. A lot of different conflicting things that really makes
people much more comfortable and the results more fair when you have
outside people involved. That`s why we call for federal prosecutor here,
as well as in Ferguson, as well as in other cases.
A week ago tonight, Rachel, I talked to you from right here in National
Action Network where the parents of Eric Garner and his wife stood on this
stage with the parents of Michael Brown from Ferguson and the young lady
from -- the young man Gurley who was killed at a housing project in
Brooklyn saying that we would stand together for federal prosecution. A
week later, another grand jury`s come out now in New York.
This is a national crisis. It is a national problem. A few of us in the
civil rights leadership meant with the president and the vice president on
this on Monday. We cannot just go from episode to episode, city to city.
There must be a national response.
The federal government must come in and intervene on the issues of criminal
justice and policing just as the federal government had to come in 45 and
50 years ago and deal with situations in the south.
We no longer can have faith on the state to take care of these kinds of
matters, no matter -- regardless as to whether the state is Missouri or New
York or Cleveland, Ohio, where 12-year-old young man was funeralized today
killed by police who shot him in two seconds with a pellet gun.
MADDOW: Rev, while we`re talking to you, we`re showing live images of some
of the protests that are happening in New York City. They`re not just
happening in New York. There`s been some protests around the country
The New York protests, though, are big and they`re disruptive. Including
the images we`re just showing, including the shutdown in both directions of
the West Side Highway. There are big protests. People are upset.
What do you see as the role of protests in terms of trying to get justice
here? Obviously, a lot of people are worried about the disruption, worried
about the potential for violence, worried about divisiveness. How do you
think public protests plays a role in this from here on out?
SHARPTON: I think that public protests that are peaceful are doing America
a great service. I think the true patriots are the people that are trying
to correct what continues to happen. When you see this pattern in various
cities of police abuse and all the public is asking for are trials, all the
grand jury is set up for is probable cause.
If you have a video showing a man being choked and the chokehold is illegal
in New York, a man saying 11 times on the video once he`s down and helpless
being held down by other police saying. "I can`t breathe" and the policeman
continues to choke him and that`s not probable cause to go to trial, then
we know that the system is broken. And all we`re saying is: follow the
The grand jury is not there to set up whether or not one is innocent or
guilty but whether there`s probable cause to proceed. And I think it`s
important we say this, Rachel, in other areas where people have questioned
juries, no one called them rabble-rouser or agitators. Many Americans
questioned the jury in the O.J. Simpson trial. They were considered people
that have a right to their opinion.
Why when we question grand juries are we all of these names? We have the
same right to question the process as anyone else does. And in this case
where you have a videotape, we have an obligation to stand up and question
MADDOW: Reverend Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network,
host of "POLITICS NATION" here on MSNBC -- Rev Al, thank you for talking us
through your role in this.
SHARPTON: Thank you.
MADDOW: It`s good to have you here, sir.
All right. We`ve got much more ahead as we continue to monitor these live
protests in New York City and elsewhere around the country, responding to
the grand jury decision to not indict a New York City police officer in the
death of Eric Garner who was choked to death on the streets of Staten
Island this past July.
Stay with us. More ahead.
MADDOW: Looking at a feed right now from the streets of New York City.
This I think is -- this is along the West Side Highway, one of the main
northwest arteries on the West Side of Manhattan Island.
Today in New York, hours before the grand jury announced its verdict in the
Eric Garner case, the verdict that`s brought out all these protesters,
before that announcement today, New York City announced they`d be moving up
the initial deployment of body cameras for New York City police officers to
wear while on duty. This is something that had been in the works in New
York for a while, but it wasn`t actually expected to go into effect for
But then, today, the day of the Eric Garner announcement, they moved up the
body cams announcement basically to now.
In the Ferguson, Missouri, case after a grand jury decided not to indict
Officer Darren Wilson in the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, Michael
Brown`s family asked people to support their call for police officers
across the country to be required to wear body cameras. There was no video
evidence of what happened in the shooting of Michael Brown in part because
Ferguson police did not regularly use cameras. Well, on Monday of this
week, President Obama announced that he would ask Congress for $263 million
to cover the cost of 50,000 new body cameras, plus training on the use of
those cameras for police officers across the country.
In the Eric Garner case, though, the Staten Island case, there was video,
right? What appeared to many people to be quite damning video of the
encounter Eric Garner had with the police which resulted in his death by
choking, there was video in this case. And the video wasn`t shot by police
cameras. It was shot by a bystander whose commentary made clear he didn`t
approve of the way police officers were handling that -- interaction with
But in this case, in this death, the existence of this video showing the
killing was not enough to convince a grand jury that there was any need for
a trial in this case. When the widow of Eric Garner was first told of the
grand jury`s decision today, the decision to not charge anyone in the death
of her husband, her first words in response were, oh, my God, are you
She then said, you can see in the video that the police officer was dead
Esaw Garner is her name. She`s Eric Garner`s widow. She told "The New
York Daily News" right after she heard about the grand jury announcement
today, quote, "The grand jury kept interviewing witnesses. But you didn`t
need witnesses. You can be a witness for yourself," she said.
Oh, my God. You can be a witness for yourself when there is video
But video evidence is no magic bullet, right? It adds to what we know but
it does not necessarily determine what happens next.
Joining us now is Letitia James. She`s the public advocate for the city of
New York. It`s an unusual job title but it`s a really important one in the
nation`s largest city. Leticia James is the second in command under Mayor
Bill de Blasio in New York. She`s also been an active proponent of the
body camera program for the NYPD.
Ms. James, thanks very much for being with us. I appreciate your time.
LETITIA JAMES, PUBLIC ADVOCATE FOR THE NYC: Thank you, Rachel. Thank you
for having me.
MADDOW: So, first of all, I just have to ask -- your decision, your
reaction as a public advocate to this decision by the grand jury today that
there will not be an indictment in Mr. Garner`s death?
JAMES: So, obviously, I`m very, very disappointed, and my prayer and my
condolences go out to the Garner family. But my office has been really
focusing on reforms, which is why since July, we`ve been pressing the de
Blasio administration and Bratton administration to implement body cameras
for members of the NYPD. We wanted to make sure that we have an objective
recording of every street encounter.
And so, earlier, before the decision was made, we stood with the mayor and
the police commissioner to announce this pilot program for cameras going
Now, we recognize that cameras are not the be-all, and we recognize that
cameras are not the panacea. They`re just one part of a plan for
progressive change in the city of New York as it relates to aggressive
policing in the city of New York.
I`m also calling upon the governor of the state of New York, Governor
Cuomo, to appoint a special prosecutor in cases of egregious police
misconduct, so that there is an independent prosecutor. We all know that,
you know, local prosecutors rely upon the police department for their re-
elections. We also know there`s an inherent conflict with police officers.
That`s why we need an independent special prosecutor to prosecute cases of
And last but not least in New York state, we need sunshine particularly as
it relates to the grand jury proceeding. So, I`m asking District Attorney
Donovan to release not part, not some but all the grand jury proceedings in
this case so that the Garner family will know why they did not get an
America will not know why we did not get an indictment in this particular
case, because we all saw the video. The video did not lie. Our eyes did
not lie and the video speaks for itself.
It was unreasonable. It was excessive force. And clearly, justice is not
perfect. And clearly, justice will be served either on the federal level,
in a civil level or in some form in the future.
So, I urge everyone to protest because I recognize that protest is our
strongest instrument at this time. And I applaud the young people for
protesting all throughout the city today because young people have been in
the forefront of change in the history of this country. If we`re going to
get change, it`s going to be the result of a peacefully protesting in this
city and in this nation for reform.
MADDOW: Ms. James, let me ask you about one point you just made, which is
about the prosecution of what you called egregious police misconduct cases.
We heard actually from the Reverend Al Sharpton, who is my colleague here
at MSNBC and obviously involved in this in his civil rights work as well,
and as an advocate for the Garner family, he essentially made the same
point that you did there, that there`s an inherent conflict of interest
between local prosecutors trying to get justice for victims of police
misconduct when their work as prosecutors is so intertwined with the police
on a daily basis in all the other types of prosecutions they bring.
Do you think that it is possible that there could be special prosecutors
brought in specifically to prosecute police misconduct?
JAMES: There are flaws in the system. I`m an attorney, a former criminal
defense attorney. And I do know that prosecutors work with the police
department each and every day. They rely upon them for evidence. They
work with them in getting their cases and prosecuting their cases.
That inherent conflict does not inure to the benefits of individuals who
are seeking justice, particularly when the defendant is a police officer.
And so, what we`re asking is for fundamental fairness. What we`re asking
is for justice, and what we`re asking for is an independent prosecutor in
cases where there`s egregious police misconduct.
MADDOW: Letitia James, New York City public advocate, which is the number
two elected position in New York City under Mayor Bill de Blasio. Ms.
James, thank you very much for your time. It`s a pleasure to have you
here. I appreciate you taking the time.
JAMES: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: Letitia James joining us tonight from the streets of Staten
Island, from the site very near where Eric Garner was killed in July of
Again, these protests that you`re seeing in the streets of New York
tonight, including some pretty disruptive protests down some pretty big
traffic avenues, these protests are in response to the grand jury decision
that there would be no charges brought against the New York City police
officer who effectively killed Mr. Garner by putting him what appeared to
be a chokehold on the video that`s been distributed so widely since that
The big question now is whether or not any other charges will be brought,
even though local prosecutors are not bringing charges? Could there be
federal charges brought in that case?
The person who would be very involved in that decision is a woman who has
just been nominated by President Obama to be the next attorney general of
the United States. She is the federal prosecutor who would have local
jurisdiction geographically in this case, and we`ve got more on that ahead.
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Since Mr. Garner`s death, the United
States attorney`s office for the eastern district of New York, the civil
rights division and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have been
monitoring the local case closely while allowing the local investigation
led by the district attorney`s office in Staten Island to proceed first.
Earlier today, the grand jury declined to return an indictment in this
case. Now that the local investigation has concluded, I`m here to announce
that the Justice Department will proceed with a federal civil rights
investigation into Mr. Garner`s death.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Attorney General Eric Holder speaking just a couple of hours ago
The last time a New York City police officer was charged with killing
someone with a chokehold, it was 20 years ago in the case of Anthony Baez
who was killed in the Bronx. In that case, the officer whose chokehold
killed him was charged at the local level, unlike the Eric Garner case.
But in the Anthony Baez case, the officer was found not guilty at trial.
Then, after that acquittal, the officer was then charged in federal court
by federal prosecutors, and in the federal case, the officer was convicted
and was sentenced to seven years behind bars.
Now, in the Eric Garner case, nobody knows if federal charges will
ultimately be brought against the officer in the Eric Garner case, but the
federal prosecutor with jurisdiction for where this happened, remarkably,
is this prosecutor. It`s Loretta Lynch, who has just been nominated by
President Obama to become the next attorney general of the United States.
How does that factor into this decision?
Joining us now is Paul Butler, former federal prosecutor, now a professor
at Georgetown Law.
Mr. Butler, thank you very much for being with us.
PAUL BUTLER, GEORGETOWN LAW: It`s great to be here, Rachel.
MADDOW: Now that we`ve heard from the attorney general that federal
investigators are looking into the death of Eric Garner, they`ve launched a
formal investigation, what are they looking for? What do they need to find
to make a decision to bring federal charges in a case like this?
BUTLER: The standard is whether the police officer willfully and
purposefully violated Mr. Garner`s rights under collar of state law. Now,
that`s fancy legal language. What it usually means is that the police had
some kind of racial animus or they were biased against Mr. Baez because of
his sexual orientation or religion or gender, then that`s a federal crime.
If it`s just an ordinary homicide, it`s not a federal crime.
And the issue there is, again, if it`s a federal civil rights claim,
there`s got to be purposeful intent. Negligence or recklessness would be
good enough for a homicide in a state case but not for a federal case. So,
it`s a much higher bar.
MADDOW: In this case, the officer who put what appears to be in chokehold
on Mr. Garner before he died, has had a couple of complaints, lawsuits,
civil lawsuits brought against him just over the past couple of years from
three different people alleging that he made essentially racially charged
decisions to treat them improperly as a police officer. Would that sort of
evidence factor into a decision by federal prosecutors in this or would
they be looking only at the interaction that happened between the man who
was killed and the officer in this one instance?
BUTLER: Federal prosecutors, like state prosecutors, have an extraordinary
amount of discretion. So, their main question will be, is there some kind
of miscarriage of justice that happened at the state level that means that
we need to intervene?
In the case that you brought up earlier, Anthony Baez, the trial judge at
the state level said there had been a miscarriage of justice. He said the
police out and out lied on the stand. So, there was a lot of pressure for
a federal prosecution.
If there`s similar pressure here, again, this was an incident that was
caught on tape. The police officers ruled -- the medical examiner ruled
that the death was a homicide, Mr. Garner`s crime was selling a loose
tobacco cigarette, it was caught on tape and he was saying, I can`t
And if all of those rise in the eyes of the attorney general and the
presumptive next attorney general, Loretta Lynch, if that rises to a
miscarriage of justice, then surely, there`s a law they can find to charge
MADDOW: Paul Butler, Georgetown University law professor, former federal
prosecutor -- thanks for your insight in helping us understand these
dynamics. I really appreciate your time tonight, sir.
All right. We`ve got much more ahead as we continue to look at live shots
and almost live shots of protests happening in Washington, D.C. and in New
York City and in Philadelphia and some other cities around the country.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: We continue to monitor live shots in vantage points around New
York City and other cities where there are significant sized protests
tonight after a Staten Island grand jury announced that there would be no
charges brought against a New York City police officer for a death caused
by choking a 43-year-old Staten Island man named Eric Garner earlier this
Protests in New York in particular have not been particularly static.
They`ve been moving around the city. They`ve been to varying degrees
disruptive, including to traffic and the Rockefeller Christmas tree
lighting ceremony, there have been no reports of significant violence or
difficulties between police and protester, but the protests continue.
We`re keeping on eye on it. Stay with us.
MADDOW: The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting was tonight, which
always brings thousands of people to Rockefeller center in Midtown
Manhattan. Tonight, in addition to that regular throng of thousands of
people celebrating the tree, there have also been a large number of
protesters converging at the same spot.
The New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio canceled his own planned appearance
at the tree lighting ceremony at Rock Center to instead go to Staten
Island, to meet with community leaders there and to talk with members of
Eric Garner`s family after the grand jury announced there`d be no charges
in the death of Mr. Garner.
One thing to know about Mayor de Blasio -- and I don`t mean to be weird --
one thing you should know about him is he`s big. He`s large physically.
He`s about 6`6".
Mayor De Blasio`s life is named Chirlane McCray. She`s African-American.
The De Blasios have two children. They have a son and a daughter.
And I mention race as it relates to the de Blasio family and also Mayor De
Blasio`s height, specifically because the mayor talked tonight about some
real emotion about what it`s like to have a high school aged African-
American son who is a big guy in the context of these recent police
killings of unarmed African-American men in our country.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK: This is profoundly personal for me. I
was at the White House the other day and the president of the United States
turned to me and he met Dante a few months ago and he said Dante reminded
him of what he looked like as a teenager. And he said, I know you see this
crisis through a very personal lens. And I said to him, I did. Because
Chirlane and I have had to talk to Dante for years about the dangers that
he may face.
Good, young man, law-abiding young man who would never think to do anything
wrong, and yet, because of the history that still hangs over us, the
dangers he may face, we`ve had to literally train him as families have all
over this city for decades in how to take special care in any encounter he
has with police officers who are there to protect him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: New York Mayor Bill De Blasio tonight talking about the grand jury
decision to not bring any charges in the killing of Eric Garner by New York
City police. The mayor speaking about it tonight in personal terms,
talking about his own family.
The Justice Department has announced a federal investigation into the
Garner case now that this grand jury decision has come down. And right
now, the protests continue in the streets of New York City.
Stay with us as our live coverage continues right now on "THE LAST WORD
WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Good evening, Lawrence.
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