Police: Chokehold victim complicit in own death

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Eric Garner's Family Speaks

NEW YORK (AP) -- Eric Garner was overweight and in poor health. He was a nuisance to shop owners who complained about him selling untaxed cigarettes on the street. When police came to arrest him, he resisted. And if he could repeatedly say, "I can't breathe," it means he could breathe.

Rank-and-file New York City police officers and their supporters have been making such arguments even before a grand jury decided against charges in Garner's death, saying the possibility that he contributed to his own demise has been drowned out in the furor over race and law enforcement.

Officers say the outcry has left them feeling betrayed and demonized by everyone from the president and the mayor to throngs of protesters who scream at them on the street.

"Police officers feel like they are being thrown under the bus," said Patrick Lynch, president of the police union.

The grand jury this week cleared a white patrolman, Daniel Pantaleo, who was caught on video applying what appeared to be an illegal chokehold on the black man. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the case underscores the NYPD's need to improve relations with minorities.

But Lynch said: "What we did not hear is this: You cannot go out and break the law. What we did not hear is that you cannot resist arrest. That's a crime."

At the noisy demonstrations that have broken out over the past few days, protesters have confronted police who had nothing to do with the case. Signs read: "NYPD: Blood on your hands," "Racism kills" and "Hey officers, choke me or shoot me." Some demonstrators shouted, "NYPD pigs!" More than 280 people have been arrested, and more demonstrations were planned Friday.

In private and on Internet chat rooms, officers say they feel demoralized, misunderstood and "all alone."

Some are advising each other that the best way to preserve their careers is to stop making arrests like that of Garner's, in defiance of the NYPD's campaign of cracking down on minor "quality of life" offenses as a way to discourage serious crime.

"Everyone is just demonizing the police," said Maki Haberfeld, a professor of police studies at John Jay College of criminal justice. "But police follow orders and laws. Nobody talks about the responsibility of the politicians to explain to the community why quality-of-life enforcement is necessary."

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Police: Chokehold victim complicit in own death
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NYPD officers shown arresting Eric Garner in July 2014 in Staten Island.
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 23: The casket carrying Eric Garner is brought out after his funeral outside the Bethel Baptist Church on July 23, 2014 in New York City. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced at a recent news conference that there will be a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Garner. The 400-pound, 6-foot-4 asthmatic, Garner (43) died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store for illegally selling cigarettes on July 17th. Garner's death has set off a wave of protests in the city and is being viewed as a test for de Blasio and his more liberal approach to policing New York's streets. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 19: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at a promotion ceremony for New York Police Department officers on December 19, 2014 in New York City. The promotions come on the heels of weeks of protests in New York over the decision of a Staten Island, New York grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Esaw Garner, wife of Eric Garner, is helped off the stage by Rev. Herbert Daughtry, center left, and her daughter Emerald Garner, right, after breaking down during a rally at the National Action Network headquarters for Eric Garner, Saturday, July 19, 2014, in New York. Garner, 43, died Thursday, during an arrest in Staten Island, when a plain-clothes police officer placed him in what appeared be a choke hold while several others brought him to the ground and struggled to place him in handcuffs. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Esaw Garner, wife of Eric Garner, left, cries alongside her daughter Emerald Garner during a rally at the National Action Network headquarters for Eric Garner, Saturday, July 19, 2014, in New York. Garner, 43, died Thursday, during an arrest in Staten Island, when a plain-clothes police officer placed him in what appeared be a choke hold while several others brought him to the ground and struggled to place him in handcuffs. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - JULY 23: People and relatives of Eric Garner, died on a city street after NYPD cops put him in a banned chokehold, attend the funeral ceremony at Bethel Baptist Church in New York's Brooklyn, United States on July 23, 2014. Human rights committees and Afro-American people react to the event as others want peace during the funeral. Garner, 43, died on July 17 as cops tried to cuff him for allegedly selling bootleg cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk. (Photo by Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 23: Fiends of Eric protest after his funeral outside the Bethel Baptist Church on July 23, 2014 in New York City. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced at a recent news conference that there will be a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Garner. The 400-pound, 6-foot-4 asthmatic, Garner (43) died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store for illegally selling cigarettes on July 17th. Garner's death has set off a wave of protests in the city and is being viewed as a test for de Blasio and his more liberal approach to policing New York's streets. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 23: The casket containing the body of Eric Garner is moved from Bethel Baptist Church during his funeral service on July 23, 2014 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Garner, 43, died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store on Staten Island for illegally selling cigarettes. (Photo by James Keivom-Pool/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 23: A child holds up a sign outside of the Bethel Baptist Church before the funeral for Eric Garner on July 23, 2014 in New York City. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced at a recent news conference that there will be a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Garner. The 400-pound, 6-foot-4 asthmatic, Garner (43) died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store for illegally selling cigarettes on July 17th. Garner's death has set off a wave of protests in the city and is being viewed as a test for de Blasio and his more liberal approach to policing New York's streets. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 23: Mourners pay their respects at the funeral service for Eric Garner held at Bethel Baptist Church on July 23, 2014 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Garner, 43, died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a convenience store on Staten Island for illegally selling cigarettes. (Photo by Julia Xanthos-POOL/Getty Images)
People gather outside the funeral service for Eric Garner at the Bethel Baptist Church in Brooklyn July 23, 2014. Eric Garner, 43, died last week as police tried to cuff him for allegedly selling bootleg cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk. AFP PHOTO / Timothy A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, left, listens as Congresswoman Yvette Clarke speaks during a press conference outside police headquarters on Thursday Aug. 14, 2014 in New York. Members of New York's congressional delegation are asking the Justice Department to formally investigate last month's police custody death of Eric Garner and the law enforcement strategy known as "broken windows." The strategy is based on the idea that fighting smaller crimes like drinking in public discourages more dangerous behavior. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
Members of Congress, Yvette Clarke, far left, Hakeem Jeffries, second from left, and Gregory Meeks, center, hold a press conference outside police headquarters on Thursday Aug. 14, 2014 in New York. Members of New York's congressional delegation are asking the Justice Department to formally investigate last month's police custody death of Eric Garner and the law enforcement strategy known as "broken windows." The strategy is based on the idea that fighting smaller crimes like drinking in public discourages more dangerous behavior. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, left, listens as Congressman Hakeem Jeffries speaks during a press conference outside police headquarters on Thursday Aug. 14, 2014 in New York. Members of New York's congressional delegation are asking the Justice Department to formally investigate last month's police custody death of Eric Garner and the law enforcement strategy known as "broken windows." The strategy is based on the idea that fighting smaller crimes like drinking in public discourages more dangerous behavior. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
FILE - In this July 22, 2014 file photo demonstrators march toward New York's 120th Precinct following a vigil demanding justice for Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died while being arrested by New York City police. The shooting of an unarmed black teen by Ferguson, Mo., police over the weekend has drawn comparisons to high-profile racially charged deaths of black men and teens around the country. Garner died following a racially-charged incident that included amateur video, one showing an officer putting the 350-pound asthmatic in a choke hold after he refused to be handcuffed. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
FILE - In this July 19, 2014 file photo Esaw Garner, center, wife of Eric Garner, breaks down in the arms of Rev. Herbert Daughtry and Rev. Rev. Al Sharpton, right, during a rally in New York. The shooting of an unarmed black teen by Ferguson, Mo., police over the weekend has drawn comparisons to high-profile racially charged deaths of black men and teens around the country. Garner died following a racially-charged incident that included amateur video, one showing an officer putting the 350-pound asthmatic in a choke hold after he refused to be handcuffed. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
Eric Garner's widow, Esaw, left and mother Gwen Carr, center, listen as Rev. Al Sharpton speaks during a rally, Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, in New York. Sharpton addressed the medical examiner's report that came Friday saying Garner's death was caused by a chokehold while in police custody, a banned police maneuver. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Gwen Carr, left, mother of Eric Garner, speaks as Rev. Al Sharpton looks on during a rally, Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, in New York. The rally was held to address the medical examiner's report that came Friday saying Garner's death was caused by a chokehold, a banned police maneuver. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Rev. Al Sharpton speaks during a rally, Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, in New York. The rally was held to address the medical examiner's report which came Friday saying that Eric Garner's death was caused by a chokehold, a banned police maneuver. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
A woman listens as Rev. Al Sharpton speaks during a rally at the National Action Network, Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, in New York. The rally was held to address the medical examiner's report which came Friday saying that Eric Garner's death was caused by a chokehold, a banned police maneuver. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Earline Skates listens during a rally at the National Action Network, Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, in New York. The rally was held to address the medical examiner's report which came Friday saying that Eric Garner's death was caused by a chokehold, a banned police maneuver. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
A young boy stops as he passes a makeshift memorial for Eric Garner, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014, in the Staten Island borough of New York. Garner was put in a chokehold while being arrested at the site last month for selling untaxed loose cigarettes. On Friday, the medical examiner ruled Garner's death to be a homicide caused by a police chokehold. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
A hand made sign hangs at a makeshift memorial for Eric Garner, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014, in the Staten Island borough of New York. Garner died after he was put in a chokehold while being arrested last month for selling untaxed loose cigarettes. On Friday, the medical examiner ruled Garner's death to be a homicide caused by a police chokehold. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
A passer-by stops to take a photo of a makeshift memorial for Eric Garner, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014, in the Staten Island borough of New York. Garner died after he was put in a chokehold while being arrested at the site last month for selling untaxed loose cigarettes. On Friday, the medical examiner ruled Garner's death to be a homicide caused by a police chokehold. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Candles, flowers, stuffed animals and cigarettes lay at a makeshift memorial for Eric Garner, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014, in the Staten Island borough of New York. Garner died after he was put in a chokehold while being arrested last month for selling untaxed loose cigarettes. On Friday, the medical examiner ruled Garner's death to be a homicide caused by a police chokehold. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Doug Phaneuf hands a newspaper to a pedestrian while offering information to passers-by about a rally for Eric Garner, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014, in the Staten Island borough of New York. Garner died after he was put in a chokehold while being arrested last month for selling untaxed loose cigarettes. On Friday, the medical examiner ruled Garner's death to be a homicide caused by a police chokehold. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 15: A memorial of Michael Brown, 18, next to the one of Eric Garner, is viewed outside of filmmaker's Spike Lee's 40 Acres offices on August 15, 2014 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Both men were recently killed by police officers in situations that remain murky and which have set off protests and demonstrations around the country. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
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The fatal encounter occurred in July after Pantaleo and other police officers responded to complaints about Garner, a heavyset 43-year-old father of six.

The video showed Garner telling officers to leave him alone and refusing to be handcuffed. Pantaleo, an eight-year veteran, appeared to wrap his arm around Garner's neck and take him down to the ground with the help of other officers.

Garner could be heard saying, "I can't breathe," several times before he went motionless.

The medical examiner later found that a chokehold resulted in Garner's death, but also that asthma, obesity and cardiovascular disease were contributing factors.

While many have decried the death of another black man at the hands of a white officer, no evidence has come to light to suggest that Pantaleo's actions were racially motivated. His supervising sergeant at the scene was black, and so were some of the officers involved in the confrontation.

As the video sparked accusations of excessive force, the police unions mounted a counter-narrative: that Garner would still be alive if he had obeyed orders, that his poor health was the main cause of his death and that Pantaleo had used an authorized takedown move - more like a headlock than a chokehold - to subdue him.

While the grand jury proceedings were secret, Pantaleo's lawyer has said that the officer testified that he never tried to choke Garner and did not believe the man was in mortal danger.

Pantaleo's defenders have included Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who argued that the grand jury outcome would have been the same if Garner had been white, and that police were right to ignore his pleas that he couldn't breathe.

"The fact that he was able to say it meant he could breathe," said King, the son of a police officer.

"And if you've ever seen anyone locked up, anyone resisting arrest, they're always saying, `You're breaking my arm, you're killing me, you're breaking my neck.' So if the cops had eased up or let him go at that stage, the whole struggle would have started in again."

Related Gallery: Reactions to the Eric Garner case
41 PHOTOS
Eric Garner reactions
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Police: Chokehold victim complicit in own death
I am stunned by the failure to indict Eric Garner's killer.
I have no words left... just angry tears thru gritted teeth. #RIPEricGarner #RIPHumanity #RIPCompassion May the Lord have mercy...
Somebody's Eyes Are Lying.BLACK LIVES MATTER. WE NEED THE FEDS FOR JUSTICE. These Grand Juries In Ferguson And Staten Island And Blind In My Opinion.
Bodycams on police officers. Snuff films made legal. How about showing what justice looks like? #GarnerRiceBrown
"I. CAN'T. BREATHE." God Damn.
Deep Hurt. We're Men. Human. We feel pain. There will be one collective cry added to these tears.Then the birth of a New Anger. #EricGarner
We held on to hope, and hope was denied. #justiceforEricGarner
Small crowd at spot where #EricGarner died. One protestor -- "This justice system died right along with #EricGarner http://t.co/p86l7FKq4b
Dear United States, it's spirit numbing, shameful, and sickly redundant. #EricGarner
Gillibrand on Garner: "I’m shocked by this grand jury decision, and will be calling on the Department of Justice to investigate.”
Homicide: deliberate & unlawful killing of one person by another. Explain #EricGarner please. http://t.co/ZR1X3FDlr4 http://t.co/p3NoHAd5f6
I just found out about #EricGarner....I am in disbelief. #nojustice #thisisnotok
Make sure you do something to let YOUR government know how you feel when something is unjust., not JUST your followers on twitter...
so america is basically saying: it's ok to kill big, tall black dudes if they do anything except play sports...#ericgarner
Eric Garner's last words. http://t.co/5lbqIEm63t
How do "crazy" cops keep getting away with this?!? He murdered that man. Stop the madness. #EricGarner #ICantBreathe
HE said I can't breathe 11 TIMES!!! 11 times ! Over some cigarettes !!!! Some cigarettes!!!!! If your not from New York and you may not have seen the video of this tragedy. Please go REVOTtv,com I just posted it. YOU have to see it to understand the level of blatant and justice this is!!!! #IcantBREATHE #EricGarner Pls spread the word so people can see it!!!!!!!
u want to disprove the claims of ppl talking abt an unjust & racist system today but u would have listened during Apartheid, Jim Crow, etc??
I wouldn't feel right posting anything else before saying my heart hurts today.
Fruitvale Station..all to familiar
How is this America? #ICantBreathe
I'd just like to know what a cop WOULD have to do to get indicted - and what good are cop cameras since Eric Garner IS on tape?
SMDH....God the world is crying for your help. This really makes me sad. All I can do is pray & I plan on doing ... http://t.co/hWGE9vJal4
This one was on film. http://t.co/Zm7DKL09ok
I'm ashamed. Mostly because I'm no longer shocked at things now-a-days. Nothing is shocking. #EricGarner
RIP Eric Garner and condolences to his family. We must start holding the police accountable for their actions. It's challenging to imagine how this could happen and be excused.
Non-white human beings are human beings. Human beings you don't happen to like, are human beings. Human beings incidentally, have rights.
#ericgarner #icantbreathe #enoughisenough #wethepeople ARE FED UP http://t.co/SY6HtNP9He
How can a man accused of selling loose cigarettes be killed with a banned chokehold with no consequences? I can't make it make sense.
An individual or institution can't kill Eric Garner in that fashion & not be held accountable. #ChokedWhilePoor New America's not having it.
Somebody's Eyes Are http://t.co/jhqFHBMPtJ LIVES MATTER. WE NEED THE FEDS FOR JUSTICE. These Grand Juries In… http://t.co/ZVPO3fhyUx
#BlackLivesMatter #BlackLivesMatter #BlackLivesMatter #BlackLivesMatter #BlackLivesMatter #BlackLivesMatter #BlackLivesMatter
#ICantBreathe
We're either shocked or we're shocked that we're not shocked #EricGarner #ICantBreathe
Just landed and heard the news. #ICantBreathe
I dare someone to say #EricGarner deserved to die & the police were just doing their job. I DARE THEM. I DOUBLE DOG DARE THEM. #ICantBreathe
“@brownmantshirts: I guess a video of a cop choking a man to death isn't enough evidence to prove a cop choked a man to death. #EricGarner”
How can you NOT indict a policeman for choking to death an unarmed man who screams 'I can't breathe' 8 times? #EricGarner
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