Four years after police chokehold victim Eric Garner died, there's a teddy bear and barely justice
They remembered him with a cuddly teddy bear.
On the Staten Island street where he died four years ago Tuesday at the hands of police, Eric Garner was memorialized with a large stuffed bear — its arms folded and its eyes looking skyward.
“I came in this morning and saw it there. Then I quickly realized it was for Eric,” said Aisha Diallo, 29, who works at Bay Beauty Supply on Bay St. in Tottenville. “It wasn’t there last night. It’s a nice way to remember him. I mean, he died right there. It’s sad.”
Later, in Harlem, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, decried the Justice Department and the NYPD for dragging their feet in their seemingly endless investigation into his death following Officer Daniel Pantaleo placing him in a banned chokehold. At Police Headquarters, the NYPD released a letter saying it would move ahead with the long-awaited disciplinary case against Pantaleo in September.
"Its been four painful years. We're still fighting and there's no justice," Carr said. “I still have sleepless nights. I still have nightmares. I have pain. I have dark nights, and I have dark days. But I’m going to continue this fight.”
Garner, 43, himself a bear of a man, allegedly was selling loose cigarettes on Bay St. when Pantaleo and other cops approached him and tried to put him in handcuffs. As captured on bystander Ramsey Orta’s now-famous video, Pantaleo put his arm around Garner’s throat, and the doomed man began gasping and repeating, “I can’t breathe.” His death, after protesting 11 times that he couldn’t breathe, became one of the cases that fueled the Black Lives Matter movement against police abuse. The city settled with his family for $5.9 million.
“It is a move in the right direction, but it must move forward,” Sharpton said, referring to the NYPD decision to pursue a disciplinary case. “This should have happened long ago … The federal government should (also) still be moving forward on the charges.”
Sharpton noted the Justice Department recently reopened the 60-year-old case of the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till.
“It seems the height of hypocrisy that the Justice Department is going to reopen a case on Emmett Till that’s 60 years old and not (move) forward on a case that’s four years old,” Sharpton said.
Pantaleo remains on desk duty without his gun and shield, but records show he has continued to make more money in each year since Garner died.
Even after the NYPD severely reduced his overtime, Pantaleo was paid more than $120,000 last year -- his biggest annual paycheck since joining the New York Police Department. He made about 5% more than the $114,100 he was paid in 2016.
That increase came despite the city’s decision in late 2016 to review how the NYPD pays overtime to cops suspected of wrongdoing. Pantaleo made more than $23,000 in overtime in fiscal 2016, but that amount was cut to about $6,900 the following year, payroll records show. Even so, he saw a nearly 11% increase to his base pay because of the new NYPD detectives contract, along with a hefty sum that sources say likely came from back pay doled out as part of the contract negotiation.
Last year was a banner one for Pantaleo: In addition to his best payday, he tied the knot on June 17, 2017. He celebrated his marriage to Alicia Cross at a reception at the Westmount Country Club in Woodland Park, N.J.
Carr said she has not given up hope that the cops will be held accountable.
“I’m always going to have faith because the whole world has seen what happened to my son recorded on video. So of course I have faith that they are going to make the right decision,” she said.
Garner’s wife, Esaw Snipes, now raising her grandchildren outside the city, said she has given up faith in the Justice Department, and she said she misses her husband and their daughter, Erica Garner, 27, who died from a heart attack Dec. 30.
"I will never get over the loss of my husband and the loss of my daughter. We miss them every day, but I cannot spend my life doing all this (demanding justice),” she said.”We have moved on. We have our first home and I am raising my grandchildren."
Snipes said the family was planning a private memorial for Eric Garner on Tuesday.
Civil rights advocates and City Council members also weighed in on the anniversary.
“It's beyond 'about time' and there's no justification for the Justice Department's inertia,” City Councilwoman Debi Rose (D-S.I.) said.
Community organizer Carolyn Martinez-Class called the NYPD move “more political theater from the de Blasio administration.”
“It lays bare the lie that the NYPD’s hands were tied from disciplining officers,” she said.”Multiple officers used excessive force while Pantaleo used a chokehold banned by the NYPD for over 20 years — others did nothing to intervene as Garner said he couldn't breathe 11 times.”
On Monday, Garner’s friends also cast their thoughts back to him.
“Eric was a big teddy bear. He was my friend and I miss him. He never bothered nobody,” said Anthony Hardy, 64. “He was very outspoken. It’s been four years. It seems so fast, man.”
Hardy said the teddy bear brought a bittersweet smile to his face when he saw it Monday morning.
“I thought about Eric when I saw it. He was a big a — teddy bear,” he said. “It reminded me of him. He was a good man. All he did was take care of his family.”
He echoed what many people still feel, that Gardner was cheated out of his life first, and then justice.
“He didn’t get no justice. The cop who killed him is still out there,” he said. “There hasn’t been justice here. I believe in divine justice. Maybe he’ll face justice when he goes to hell. He’s not going to heaven.”
Ellen Gray, 65, said the community feels wronged.
“They (the officers) are still working and he’s dead. He suffered like a dog,” she said. “As far as I’m concerned, he didn’t get no justice.”
Hardy said the stretch of street will always be Garner’s block.