A few days before the anniversary of the death of Eric Garner, New York City officials announced a $5.9 million settlement stemming from his controversial death during an arrest in Staten Island last summer.
In his announcement of the payout, City Comptroller Scott Stringer said the terms of settlement means that the city does not admit liability, but offers some measure of comfort to the family of the deceased father of six.
“I believe that we have reached an agreement that acknowledges the tragic nature of Mr. Garner’s death while balancing my office’s fiscal responsibility to the City,” Mr. Stringer said in a statement.
On July 17, 2014 – a beautiful summer day – Mr. Garner was approached by two police officers on suspicion of committing the misdemeanor of selling loose unlicensed cigarettes. The father of six protested and was taken to the ground in what the medical examiner ruled a chokehold by New York Police Department Officer Daniel Pantaleo. A grand jury declined to indict Officer Pantaleo last fall. A federal civil rights investigation is ongoing.
After being subdued on the ground, Garner became unresponsive. He was transported to a hospital and pronounced dead one hour later.
The cell phone video of Garner’s arrest went viral, sparking protests in New York, and his name was added to the list in the chants in the Black Lives Matter movement. Demonstrators took to the streets again last fall after the grand jury decision.
His last words – "I can’t breathe" – became a rally cry for the movement.
The announcement took note of the impact that Garner’s death had on the national consciousness.
“We are all familiar with the events that lead to the death of Eric Garner and the extraordinary impact his passing has had on our City and our nation,” Stringer said in the statement. “It forced us to examine the state of race relations, and the relationship between our police force and the people they serve.”
Edward Mullins, the head of the president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association lambasted the city for the settlement, saying a jury would have come to more fair terms based on “neither politics nor emotion.”
“In my view, the city has chosen to abandon its fiscal responsibility to all of its citizens and genuflect to the select few who curry favor with the city government,” Sergeant Mullins told the New York Post. “Mr. Garner’s family should not be rewarded simply because he repeatedly chose to break the law and resist arrest.”
A medical examiner ruled the death a homicide stemming from the chokehold, compression on Garner’s chest, and the 43-year-old’s existing health problems. Chokeholds which are described in the NYPD handbook as “any pressure to the throat or windpipe, which may prevent or hinder breathing or reduce intake of air” have been banned by the department since 1993.
A series of bills to officially criminalize police use of the chokehold – inspired by Garner’s arrest – has been winding its way through City Council.
The NYPD, which has prohibited the use of chokeholds since 1993, announced plans last month to match the language in the police handbook with the language of the legislation, The New York Times reported.