I don't want the death of Eric Garner, my son, to be just another news story to people. I know that, many times, we hear something on the news and we sympathize with the family. But we need to empathize with the victims, to advocate for justice, because otherwise, it'll just keep happening.
After my son's horrific death five years ago, I thought, since we had a video and everything was wide open for the world to see, that there would be no question about getting justice. I thought after Eric's death was ruled a homicide that the police officer involved, Daniel Pantaleo, would be indicted and he would be held accountable for his wrongdoing. But that didn't happen. The grand jury refused to indict him; police investigators determined that he used a chokehold but took no action against him other than leaving him on desk duty. The Department of Justice announced in 2014 that it was investigating but hasn't done anything even as the statute of limitations will expire next month; the city blamed the ongoing federal investigation for their failure to hold a Civilian Complaint Review Board hearing until this year.
It's taken nearly five years to get any kind of public hearing, and we still don't know if we'll get any kind of justice.
Sitting in the review board hearing was horrible; so much came out that I didn't know before. It was like reliving everything, and at certain points I had to walk out of the courtroom. Just to hear Pantaleo's lawyer stand up there and bash my son, calling him a "ticking time bomb" with no apparent remorse for the family, that hurt. They denied that what Pantaleo did to Eric was a chokehold, even after other police officers and the medical examiner got on the stand and said it was a chokehold. And then there was the medical examiner from St. Louis that they paid as an expert witness but who never examined him, who said his death had nothing to do with what the police did to him.
And then, at the end of each day, Pantaleo got to go home to his family. Eric doesn't get to do that.
It's still a long road from here. Now that the review board hearing is over, both sides have to submit a statement to the administrative judge, if there is anything with which they're unsatisfied. Ultimately, then, the judge will make a decision over whether Pantaleo should face any discipline and send it to Commissioner James O'Neil, and he will decide what, if anything, will happen to the officer who killed my son.
Meanwhile, the statute of limitations for the Department of Justice to bring civil rights charges against Pantaleo runs out next month, and they have not moved one bit on our case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Geddes went to the review board hearing but walked out when the judge ruled that Pantaleo did not have to testify and would not be cross-examined.
I'm still going be hopeful that there will be some justice for my son and our family — but only in the sense that I'm not going to let it go. The police have to represent New York City; they are supposed to serve and protect everyone. But they're all not doing that.
Not all police officers are bad, but the ones that are bad are still out there, and the good cops need to weed them out and get rid of them. Otherwise, all that happens is that, when they kill our loved ones, they get a slap on the back and sometimes they even get a raise. This officer who killed my son, for instance, was making a six figure salary after his death, even on desk duty. And there were even more officers who were involved in or witnessed my son's death and did nothing, but they had nothing to fear because nothing is going to happen to them. That is just absurd.
That's why we're trying to force their hand, to force them to give us some kind of justice. We are not going to let Eric's death be swept under the rug; they can't be allowed to just run out the clock. I'm not only doing this for us, though: My son is gone, but there are other lives out there to save by making sure that officers like Pantaleo are held accountable for their actions. So I'm going to continue on this journey, and nothing's going to stop me.
We all need to keep it going, at all costs. If the world can watch the cops kill Eric on video, then sit by when refuse to discipline any of them, run out the clock on a federal investigation and wait until we all forget what they did, what do you think is going to happen to the next person, or the one after that? I can't bring Eric back, nothing can bring Eric back, but maybe I can help make sure no other family has to go through this.
As told to THINK editor Megan Carpentier, edited and condensed for clarity.