Activists shouted “Fire Pantaleo” during Democratic candidate Bill de Blasio’s opening speech at the presidential debate held last night in Detroit, MI. The five activists were escorted out of the Fox Theater by police after being asked to leave. The activists, all well-known in the activist community, were Tamika D. Mallory (co-President of the Women’s March, Inc.), Rev. Kirsten John Foy (a former top staffer for de Blasio, while in his public advocate role), Linda Sarsour (co-chair of the Women’s March), Angelo Pinto (co-founder of Justice League NYC and also worked on the “Free Meek Mill” campaign), and Mysonne Linen (a Hip Hop artist, actor, and activist).
This scene at the beginning of the debate broadcast no doubt ignited more support and pressure from across the country for the current New York City mayor and presidential candidate to fire Daniel Pantaleo, the New York City police officer charged in the death of Eric Garner. There has been an ongoing effort to demand that Pantaleo be fired after the Justice Department declined to prosecute him on July 16.
In 2014, Eric Garner was stopped on the street by officers including Pantaleo. Garner died as a result of Pantaleo using a banned choke hold technique. Despite Garner’s desperate cries for release by repeating that he couldn’t breathe, Pantaleo continued to use the choke hold, and Garner died as a result. A grand jury had refused to indict Pantaleo in December 2014. Since Garner’s death, Pantaleo has remained on the force on paid modified duty. After five years, the Justice Department announced just last month that Pantaleo would not be prosecuted for taking Garner’s life. Immediate outrage by Garner’s family and community and nationwide supporters was felt and a campaign to have Pantaleo removed from the NYPD was reignited. Many have called on New York City’s mayor Bill de Blasio to make or influence that decision, however it seems those requests have fallen on deaf ears.
For years, this same cycle of events has played out across the country rarely resulting in police officers being brought to justice for the deaths of people either detained or within their custody. In many instances, the officer is not even charged for the killing even though there is clear evidence enough to evoke at least an inquiry. Over the years, thousands of people have lost their lives to police violence and, in nearly all of those cases, police officers were not convicted of a crime. Of those killed, Black people are most likely to be killed by police, even if they are unarmed and/or not suspected of a violent crime. Their only crime apparently was being Black. We salute those who continue to actively demand justice and accountability for lives, Black or otherwise, taken unjustly by government actors, styled as law enforcement agents.