An “independent, thorough, fair and expeditious” federal investigation is to be conducted into the death of Eric Garner, who died after being held in an apparent chokehold by New York police, following a grand jury decision not to indict the officer responsible for the neck hold.
US Attorney General Eric Holder said on Wednesday that the Justice Department will now proceed with a federal civil rights investigation, adding that a “complete review of the material gathered during the local investigation” will be conducted.
Mr Garner died on 17 July after being restrained by police. He had been stopped on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes, and after refusing to be handcuffed, was physically restrained by a number of police, with officer Daniel Panteleo gripping him by the neck.
A recording of the incident emerged online, with Mr Garner heard shouting “I can’t breathe” repeatedly. The city’s medical examiner’s office found he died due to “the compression of his chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police”.
The grand jury’s decision not to indict Mr Panteleo comes just weeks after the white police officer who shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was not indicted, sparking further protests and widespread unrest in the Missouri town.Attorney General Holder said: “We have all seen the video of Mr Garner’s arrest. His death, of course, was a tragedy. All lives must be valued.
“Mr Garner’s death is one of several recent incidents across the country that have tested the sense of trust that must exist between law enforcement and the communities they are charged to serve and protect.
He added that the vast majority of the police perform their duties honourably and are “committed to respecting their fellow citizens’ civil rights” in their duties, and said it is for these peoples’ sake as well that “we must seek to heal the breakdown in trust we have seen”.
“I know that substantial numbers of people in New York and across the country will be disappointed and frustrated by the outcome of the state grand jury proceeding today.
“I know many will plan to voice their disappointment publicly through protests. This is the right of all Americans,” he said, urging those choosing to protest to do so without violence and “not to engage in activities that deflect our attention from the very serious matters our nation must confront”.
Hundreds of New Yorkers took to the streets in protest on Wednesday night, many staging sit-in and “die-in” protests, either protesting in silence or chanting “I can’t breathe!” and “Hand’s up, don’t choke!” across the city.Reuse content