December 4, 2014
By Marc Bussanich
New York, NY—Moments after the news broke that the impaneled grand jury in Staten Island decided not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the chokehold death of Eric Garner in July, several elected officials and labor leaders issued statements condemning the decision.
The Staten Island decision comes 10 days after a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri also didn’t indict a police officer for a confrontation that resulted in the death of a black teenager.
Manhattan’s Borough President, Gale Brewer, said in a statement that she would respect while disagreeing with the decision.
"As I said after the Ferguson Grand Jury's decision, we need reforms, we need training, but mostly we as a country need to address our racial disparities and the very real and devastating actions that are the result. We need to demonstrate our outrage peacefully and constructively and move ahead to make change."
Mayor Bill de Blasio invoked civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to remind the city that the issue of relations between the police and the community affects not just New Yorkers, but also all Americans.
“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—one of our nation’s most profound thinkers on these issues—taught us something very simple: ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ The problem of police-community relations and civil rights is not just an issue for people of color, or young people or people who get stopped by police. This is a fundamental issue for every American who cares about justice,” said de Blasio.
Hector Figueroa, 32BJ SEIU’s president, said that overcoming racism and addressing the question of racial justice is both a worker and union issue.
“There is a serious problem in this city and across the country. 32BJ is committed to acting peacefully with like-minded organizations, clergy and others dedicated to eradicating the deep-seeded scourge of racism and institutional bias that undermines whole communities and hurts all of us. We know racial justice is a worker issue, that racial equality is a union goal: we cannot win at work when race divides us, nor does fairness truly exist when some of us are profiled at home, targeted on the streets, and treated unequally in the courts. Working people will be more powerful when we are further united in all our struggles,” said Figueroa.
Former labor leader and now Councilmember I. Daneek Miller representing the Council’s 27th district in Queens said he was appalled by the decision. He invoked the historian, civil rights activist and author of the groundbreaking book, “The Souls of Black Folk,” to express his disappointment.
“It appears in this case, as in the most recent case of Michael Brown, that the process has failed us. And for that reason, I assure you that the process is not over and I will continue to stand with those who remain to fight for the justice that is deserved by the mother, father, wife, and children of Eric Garner. Once again, I am forced to quote W.E.B. Dubois, who once said, ‘A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect.’ For this reason we, as legislators, will continue to take a serious look at policing policy and measures of accountability, as indicated by a series of recent City Council bills,” Miller said.
And the City Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, implored New Yorkers to react to the decision without bad intent.
“During this painful time, it is imperative that New Yorkers come together rather than allow frustration and anger to boil over and divide us. The Garner family has asked that any demonstrations be peaceful and everyone should respect that call. My thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Eric Garner. My fellow Council Members and I remain committed to fostering healing in our communities,” said Mark-Viverito.
She noted that she would be urging the U.S. Department of Justice to launch its own investigation.