Justice delayed

Activists hold placards on the steps of New York City Hall during a news conference earlier this year about the decision by the U.S. Department of Justice not to prosecute NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner. Luiz C. Ribeiro/New York Daily News/Tribune News Service

The New York City police officer who applied a chokehold leading to the death of Eric Garner five years ago has finally faced a small measure of punishment.

Daniel Pantaleo was fired Monday and stripped of his government benefits by NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill. This is the very least the city could do in a tragedy that never should have happened.

Mr. Garner was accused of selling single cigarettes from untaxed packs July 17, 2014, on Staten Island. He objected to being persistently harassed by police, and Mr. Pantaleo placed him in a chokehold as other officers attempted to detain him.

Mr. Garner repeated “I can’t breathe” numerous times before falling unconscious. He was pronounced dead about an hour later. His death was ruled a homicide by a medical examiner, who ruled he died from “compression of neck (choke hold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.”

The use of chokeholds had been banned by the NYPD for about two decades. Other health issues contributed to Mr. Garner’s death, but the chokehold was listed as the trigger.

A Richmond County grand jury declined to bring charges against Mr. Pantaleo in September 2014, prompting many protests. The U.S. Department of Justice conducted its own investigation. Earlier this year, U.S. Attorney General William Barr decided not to file any charges.

That Mr. Pantaleo had not been charged was an insult to Mr. Garner’s family and the criminal justice system. He used an illegal maneuver in trying to subdue Mr. Garner. In addition, Administrative Judge Rosemarie Maldonado determined that Mr. Pantaleo lied about his actions.

It’s disturbing that an individual accused of selling cigarettes on the street should end up dead after an encounter with police officers. What was the need to try to place him in custody? Wouldn’t it have sufficed to issue him a ticket and request that he appear in court on a specified date?

This sad incident has divided many Americans. Members of the black community cite it as an example of the horrific manner in which they’re treated by police officers. And law enforcement agents believe Mr. Pantaleo’s firing shows that authorities don’t adequately support them.

No one should have to die for such a minor offense, which Mr. Garner denied committing. Supporting police officers means understanding the grave risks they take every day. But it also must ensure their training includes measures on when physical force may not be necessary.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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