Team reviewing Eric Garner’s death is swapped out, but it’s already been 2 years with no results
The Department of Justice is removing agents investigating the death of Eric Garner, as Garner’s case has been stalled due to disagreement between New York-based FBI agents and Washington officials over whether or not the incident warrants federal charges. Garner, an African-American man who suffered from asthma, was killed by NYPD officers in July 2014, when Officer Daniel Pantaleo held Garner in a chokehold despite Garner’s complaints that he could not breathe. Other NYPD officers restrained Garner with his face on the pavement. The officers suspected Garner had illegally been selling “loose” cigarettes.
The DOJ decision to replace agents involved in the investigation is supposedly meant to move the case forward, as nothing has really happened since the Justice Department first opened the investigation in December 2014. This stems from conflict between federal prosecutors and FBI agents about whether Pantaleo should face charges.
Prosecutors with the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division in Washington believe there is evidence to bring charges against Pantaleo despite opposition by New York agents, who were removed from the case in recent weeks. Now, those New York FBI agents will be replaced with agents from outside the state, but it’s unclear whether the Washington prosecutors will work alone if they present evidence to a grand jury, according to The New York Times.
This shakeup in the Garner investigation has been presented as an effort toward obtaining justice for Garner and striking a blow toward patterns of racist policing. However, evidence suggests this effort will amount to little. To prosecute Pantaleo in a case that will likely stall for another several months, Washington prosecutors will have to prove that Pantaleo acted with clear and deliberate intent to violate Garner’s civil rights, a relatively impossible feat.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported earlier this year that federal prosecutors chose not to bring charges against officers alleged to have committed civil rights violations in 96 percent of cases from between 1995 and 2015 due to weak or insufficient evidence, lack of clear intent to infringe on another person’s civil rights, and outright discouragement from the DOJ. In 2015, a year which many analysts and news outlets noted for its apparent spike in killings by law enforcement, a total of zero police officers were convicted on murder or manslaughter charges despite fatally shooting unarmed civilians.
Garner’s death sparked outrage among activists across the nation, who came to rally against racially charged police brutality under the tagline “I can’t breathe,” words uttered by Garner while Pantaleo held him in a chokehold.
In spite of this justified outrage among civilians, cases like this tend to end without convictions, with court rulings siding with police for acting out of necessity or denying that there is sufficient evidence of racist intent.