Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner is in tremendous emotional pain. She has had to look at a cell phone video recording that has gone viral regarding alleged police brutality against her son. The mother of Eric Garner (she is a train conductor in NYC for the Transit Authority) looked me in my eyes with profound sadness as she made this comment. You can see the full interview here from RNN TV.
"When I seen what they were doing to my son, it tore my heart out." She paused about three seconds, and then repeated the perspective that any mother would have: "Just tore my heart out. Now on TV, it's like they keep killing him over and over. My husband won't even let me have the remote control."
This case is highly emotional.
Under investigation by Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan, the Garner family has already met with the U.S. Attorney's office regarding a possible violation of civil rights.
But is everything as clear in the video as it appears to be on the surface? Supporters of Mr. Garner say, of course, yes. Supporters of the police officers involved respond, of course, no.
There are two statements Garner made on the recording of the incident that stand out. On the video, the public sees Mr. Garner complained to police about being targeted by them for alleged harassment. He told the officers "This stops today." And later as the officers physically struggled with him, Garner said, "I can't breathe... I can't breathe." Seconds later Garner would be unconscious.
Garner's family is sad but furious at the same time, and they believe race indeed played a factor.
"I hate to say it, but if it had been a white boy, would he have choked him? Would they have choked him to death like that?" -- Benjamin Carr, father of Eric Garner
The union representing the police officers tells a very different story. Friday I sat down with Pat Lynch, the President of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association. Lynch calls the case a tragedy and showed compassion, declaring no officer starts out their day with the possibility that they may take a life, but while tragic, Lynch quickly adds if Garner did not resist arrest he would be alive today, and Lynch argues it was not a chokehold. You can see the RNN-TV interview here.
"I don't believe that was a chokehold. You had police officers that needed to bring this person to the ground to place him under arrest. He decided to struggle and fight instead." -- PBA President Pat Lynch
But if there is to be a criminal prosecution, a prosecutor has their work cut out for them.
Mr. Garner's supporters say the tape clearly shows a chok hold, and they quickly add the mayor and police commissioner have already agreed with them from a blue room news conference at City Hall.
Well, video evidence is part of that. You'll have expert testimony. Testimony about what is a chokehold, what's not. How you actually cut off the oxygen to somebody. So the grand jury can understand that, and if it goes to trial, ultimately a jury. This is a tragic case. No one should die in police custody, but these police officers are innocent until proven guilty. Just like any criminal is, even mass murders are innocent until proven guilty. So the facts have to come out. The video is certainly very upsetting and its heartbreaking to here from the family, but the investigation has to go forward.
There is something that is very unique about this case.
Most of the time history has shown with such alleged police brutality cases, the families have viewed city hall as the enemy, and with great suspicion, but not this time.
The Garner family has had much praise for NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, and the way he has handled the case, with Garner's mother saying the mayor "has been very supportive." Kirsten John Foy, an adviser to the Garner family and part of Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network summed it up this way:
The administration has, after 20 years of seeing a City Hall that was neglectful, and many times antagonistic to the community that was victimized, we have an administration that jumped out in front and recognized the humanity, and the crisis that was pending out of this incident. Immediately called the family to relay their condolences, and demonstrated a humane leadership that we haven't seen in 20 years.
But the Police Department of New York City is under great scrutiny as of late. Several other allegations of alleged police brutality have surfaced with videotape. Police Commissioner William Bratton has said he's ordering a "top-to-bottom" review of all of the training the NYPD provides to its personnel dealing with such matters.