Democratic presidential candidates condemned the Justice Department’s decision Tuesday not to bring federal charges against the NYPD officer who caused the death of Eric Garner by putting him in a chokehold.
Five years after cell-phone video appeared to show white NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo putting Garner, who is black, in a deadly chokehold while arresting him for selling untaxed cigarettes, federal authorities decided not to charge Pantaleo. The New York City Medical Examiner’s Office said the alleged chokehold, which the officer denies, caused Garner to have an asthma attack and contributed to his death.
Garner’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” have echoed through civil-rights circles as a call to action in the years since.
Several Democratic presidential candidates expressed outrage at the decision, and some said it was infused with racism.
Senator Kamala Harris, a former attorney general of California, said the justice system has failed Garner’s family.
“This is a miscarriage of justice. Our criminal justice system should be rooted in accountability. My heart breaks for the Garner family,” the California senator wrote on Twitter.
Senator Cory Booker, another contender for the Democratic nomination, agreed, calling the decision “wrong.”
“This decision is wrong, unjust and painful reminder of just how broken our criminal justice system is,” the New Jersey Democrat said in a tweet. “Eric Garner should be alive today. I pray his loved ones can find peace.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren accused the U.S. of applying different standards of justice to the powerful and the disenfranchised.
“We have a responsibility to protect our citizens—and to hold police accountable when they fail,” the Democratic presidential candidate said. “My heart goes out to Eric Garner’s family today.”
“It’s not equal justice when a kid with an ounce of pot can get thrown in jail, while a big bank executive who cheats and defrauds Americans can get a bonus,” Warren added. “The words above the Supreme Court say ‘Equal Justice Under Law’ — we need to start acting like it.”
Senator Bernie Sanders added his voice as well to the chorus of candidates calling for an end to discrimination against minorities in the justice system.
“The Garner family has suffered too much. This decision pains me,” Sanders wrote on Twitter. “It is not just, and we will not have real justice for black Americans until there is serious reform of our racist criminal justice system.”