[Unanimously adopted by Executive Board, Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325]
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
ALAA MEMBERS DEMAND NYPD ACCOUNTABILITY FOR DEATH OF ERIC GARNER
On July 17, 2014, a group of NYPD officers killed Eric Garner, a 43-year-old, African-American resident of Staten Island. The New York City Chief Medical Examiner’s office ruled Mr. Garner’s death a homicide, the result of a “compression of neck (choke hold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.” A video of the encounter shows a police officer choking Mr. Garner from behind and dragging him to the ground. As the officer chokes him and as more officers pile on top of him, Mr. Garner repeatedly gasps, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,” until he loses consciousness.
The officers claim that Mr. Garner had been selling loose cigarettes.
Mr. Garner was a client of The Legal Aid Society and a repeated target of NYPD harassment. As members of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325, representing more than 1,000 attorneys, we stand in solidarity with Mr. Garner’s family and with community members who have been under siege for far too long.
As attorneys, we see instances of police violence against our clients everyday. Moreover, we see how disruptive and destructive the criminal justice system can often be, and how it degrades and dehumanizes the most vulnerable members of our community and vastly diminishes their access to a range of basic survival opportunities. A seemingly innocuous police encounter can lead to a range of serious consequences affecting one’s housing, immigration status, and employment. In the case of Mr. Garner, the police encounter led to him being killed.
The 120th Precinct, where Mr. Garner was killed, is a hotbed of police abuse, with seven of the city’s top ten officers most frequently sued for civil rights violations. Yet the national public outrage at Mr. Garner’s killing and the 120th’s record of abuse has done little to deter more police violence. After Mr. Garner’s death, even more videos have surfaced of the police attacking the men and women of our communities. We have seen officers choke a pregnant woman and stomp on a young man in Brooklyn. We have seen EMTs intervene to prevent officers from assaulting a restrained, mentally ill man. We have seen reports documenting the rampant culture of abuse at Rikers Island. In short, we have seen the violence continue.
Sadly, these are not isolated incidents: they represent a tragic pattern of abuse of poor people and people of color at the hands of the NYPD, a pattern that stretches back to the killings of Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr., Ramarley Graham, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Anthony Baez, and many others. In fact, the circumstances surrounding Mr. Garner’s death mirror the NYPD’s killing of another Staten Island resident, Ernest Sayon, twenty years ago. Like Mr. Garner, Mr. Sayon was choked to death in police custody – but in his case, there was no video of the incident, and no officers were ever held accountable.
This time, it will be different. While we are outraged by Mr. Garner’s death, and by police violence in all forms, we are heartened by the strong community response on the North Shore of Staten Island and throughout the city. We demand that our elected officials heed the call of our communities and fight to protect the rights and dignity of poor people and people of color in New York. We demand wholesale changes in the culture and practices of the NYPD. We demand an end to “broken windows” and “stop and frisk” policing, which have targeted New Yorkers on the basis of race and poverty for far too long.
We demand accountability from the NYPD, Police Commissioner William Bratton, Staten Island District Attorney Daniel M. Donovan, Jr., and Mayor Bill de Blasio. We, the undersigned members of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325, demand justice for Eric Garner.