The widow of Eric Garner, the man who died this summer after police on Staten Island put him in a chokehold, said Sunday that her husband was regularly hassled by police and never resisted arrest in his encounters with cops.
Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," Esaw Garner said her husband's sale of single cigarettes was a running issue with neighborhood police and never should have escalated to his chokehold death.
"It's something that he continued to do, and the police knew. You know? They knew," Garner said. "It wasn't like it was a shock. They knew him by name. They harassed us; they said things to us. We would go shopping. 'Hi, cigarette man. Hey, cigarette man wife.' You know? Stuff like that. And I would just say, 'Eric, keep walking. Don't say nothing, don't respond. Don't give them a reason to do anything to you.'
"And he just felt like, they keep harassing me," she went on. "I would say, 'Just ignore them, Eric.' And he would say, 'How much can I ignore?' And I would say, 'Just stay away from the block, just find something else to do.' And he's like, 'What else can I do? I keep getting sick.'"
Last week, a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer who delivered the chokehold that led to Garner's death. Coming on the heels of another non-indictment in the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the Garner case, which was captured on video, has sparked protests across the nation over police use of force.
Speaking Sunday, Esaw Garner was blunt about her husband's past interactions with cops. He'd been arrested numerous times before and never physically fought back, she asserted. She disputed comments from the head of the city's police union that her husband died because he resisted.
"I'm not going to say he was a career criminal, but I'm going to say he had a past of being arrested," she said. "And he never, not once, ever resisted arrest. He's done a little bit of time, and he's accepted his time when the judge handed it to him ... I've seen a lot of people resist arrest. I've seen people pull guns out on cops and live.
"I feel like he was murdered," she said.