The widow of Eric Garner asked federal prosecutors to launch a civil rights investigation into the death of her husband. He died last week after being put in a chokehold by a New York City police officer while being arrested.
Garner’s death during his encounter with the police prompted hundreds of news articles and interviews which bring up the issues of racism, harassment, and excessive use of force by police. His name was quickly added to a much longer list of fatal clashes between African-Americans and police.
Police said Garner, 43, was tackled and put into a chokehold because he was resisting arrest, reportedThe Huffington Post (7.26.14). During the incident, the 350-pound man became unresponsive as he was forced to the ground in Staten Island by police.
The incident, which was captured on video by two bystanders, was under investigation. In the cellphone videos, Garner repeatedly cries out “I can’t breathe” as police wrestle him to the sidewalk and handcuff him. He was accused of selling illegal cigarettes.
This incident showed that some officers still use chokeholds, although they have been officially banned by the New York Police Department from doing so since 1994. NYPD’s patrol guidelines outline a chokehold as “any pressure to the throat or windpipe, which may prevent or hinder breathing or reduce intake of air,” reportedThe New York Times (7.19.14).
To take a person into custody, police are generally allowed to use reasonable force. Police are not justified in using extreme force or unnecessary force. If inappropriate force is used in a particular situation, the police officer may be subject to criminal prosecution and civil liability in the form of a lawsuit filed by the victim, or his or her family. Whether an officer’s use of force was unreasonable is decided by the courts on a case-by-case basis. In an excessive force case, the court will take into account the severity of the crime, whether the suspect posed a threat, and whether the suspect was resisting arrest or attempting to run away.
When police overstep their authority and violate a person’s civil rights it may result in severe physical injury. The incident may also damage the public’s trust in police officers. Police brutality lawsuits ensure that the officers involved are held accountable for their actions, appropriate standards for use of force are followed, and victims receive the compensation to which they are entitled.
According to the Huffington Post, at least four authorities are investigating Garner’s death: the Staten Island district attorney, the police department’s internal affairs bureau, the city’s inspector general of police and the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board.
The Huffington Post also reported that police were also investigating a second apparent use of a chokehold by a NYPD officer in the same week as Garner’s death. Garner’s death happened nearly seven months after Mayor Bill de Blasio took office, promising to reform the police department.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder released a statement but did not confirm whether the Justice Department would mount its own investigation.
The Huffington Post story is “Eric Garner’s Widow Asks For Civil Rights Investigation Over Her Husband’s Death.”
The New York Times story is “Man’s Death After Chokehold Raises Old Issue for the Police.”