New York Mayor Bill de Blasio praised the police response to demonstrators protesting a Staten Island grand jury decision not to indict a white police officer in the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, and called for changes in procedure and training.
Speaking after a tour of the new Police Academy in College Point, Queens, de Blasio, accompanied by Police Commissioner William Bratton, watched as instructors discussed how police were allowed to take down suspects, a key issue in the Garner case where critics said police used an improper chokehold that led to the African American man’s death.
“Fundamental questions are being asked and rightfully so,” de Blasio said, adding, “This tragedy is raising a lot of tough questions.”
“People need to know that black lives and brown lives matter as much as white lives,” said the mayor who has spoken eloquently on race relations and how fear of police has touched his family. De Blasio is married to a black woman and they have children.
“All we want, all of us together, is to know everyone will be kept safe. That’s all it comes down to,” de Blasio said.
He praised police for response to Wednesday night’s protests, calling it exactly the right tone.
“The way we go about policing has to change. It has to change in this city, has to change in this country.”
De Blasio’s comments come as the nation has been trying to deal with a series of high-profile incidents in which African Americans died at the hands of police in New York, Cleveland and Ferguson, Mo., and where police practices in minority communities have come under increasing scrutiny. Grand juries in recent days have refused to charge officers in Ferguson and New York, setting off waves of protests across the country.
“When it comes, as we’ve seen, unfortunately, in recent days, to our criminal justice system, too many Americans feel deep unfairness when it comes to the gap between our professed ideals and how laws are applied on a day-to-day basis,” President Obama said on Thursday, at a higher education symposium in Washington.
The Obama administration has also called for more training and the use of body cameras by police to provide a clear and impartial record of all confrontations. A video of the Garner confrontation with New York police Officer Daniel Pantaleo went viral after the incident on July 17.
The video shows Pantaleo with his arm wrapped around Garner’s neck during an altercation on a Staten Island sidewalk. Activists argue that Pantaleo used a chokehold that has been banned by New York police for decades. The officer’s supporters reject that contention.
A New York court on Thursday released a limited amount of information about the secret grand jury investigation, including the number of witnesses who testified and the number of exhibits submitted into evidence. The four-page document largely contains Richmond County Dist. Atty. Daniel Donovan Jr.’s appeal for the release of the information and is the only document that will be publicly available in connection with the case, according to David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the city’s office of court administration.
According to the court filing, the grand jury sat for nine weeks and heard testimony from 50 witnesses – 22 were civilians and 28 were either police officers, first-responders or medical personnel. Sixty items were submitted into evidence, including videos of the alleged chokehold, NYPD memorandums and written policies, Garner’s medical records, crime scene and autopsy photographs and records concerning NYPD training policies and procedures, according to the court documents.
The disclosure did not include transcripts of testimony, Garner’s autopsy report or any other specific evidence.
According to the ruling authored by Richmond County Supreme Court Judge Stephen Rooney, Donovan sought only a “limited public disclosure, and most of the material petitioner seeks to publicly disclose has already been widely reported in the media.”
A spokesman for Donovan did not immediately respond to questions about the application for the release of grand jury information. In a statement, Donovan said he would make no further public comments about the investigation or Garner’s death.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said Donovan’s decision to request the release of limited information does nothing to help thousands of outraged New Yorkers understand what led to the decision not to indict Pantaleo.
“I think that the request for limited information was not a request for what we need in this case, which is transparency, so the public can understand and get the flavor of what happened in the grand jury proceedings without it being censored,” she said. “The limited information that was disclosed is hardly helpful, and shines virtually no light on the critical issues that would further the public discourse.”
Pantaleo is still being investigated by the federal government for possible civil rights violations, an inquiry similar to the one launched into former Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson, who fatally shot an unarmed black man, Michael Brown, 18, on Aug. 9. The Justice Department is also investigating Ferguson police practices, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said.
The investigation is similar to about two dozen such actions launched in recent years. As in those case, the federal agency works with local officials to find abuses and offer corrections.
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SOURCE: Los Angeles Times
Michael Muskal, Tina Susman and James Queally