Hundreds of mourners packed into Brooklyn's Bethel Baptist Church for the funeral of Eric Garner, the 43-year-old husband and father of six who died after a police officer put him in a chokehold during an arrest last week. The Rev. Al Sharpton said, "This is an occasion when we should not be here. We're in a city where you can't choke us. Go to the video tape. What are you going to say now? You can't stop us on this one... God will take care of us now. Fight back community. Don't back down. We got to win. We don't choke people. We're redeemers of this city."
The confrontation between Garner and police was filmed by onlooker Ramsey Orta. Police claim that Garner was selling untaxed cigarettes while witnesses say he was just breaking up a fight. At any rate, the shocking video shows Garner arguing with the police: "I was just minding my own business. Every time you see me you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. It stops today!" When a number of cops try to subdue him, Garner, who weighed 400 pounds, is seen swatting their hands away and saying, "Don’t touch me, please."
As Officer Daniel Pantaleo puts him in a chokehold, other officers struggle to pull him to the ground and get his arms behind his back. Garner, an asthmatic, can be heard repeatedly saying, "I can't breathe." He was later pronounced dead at Richmond University Medical Center, and the first police report didn't even mention the chokehold. Pantaleo, who has been sued twice for civil rights violations, was stripped of his badge and gun while Officer Justin Damico was placed on modified duty.
Mayor de Blasio promised a full investigation into Garner's death, and Police Commissioner Bratton Sharpton says the entire NYPD will undergo "top-to-bottom" retraining. But Sharpton said, "You don’t need new training to stop choking a man saying, ‘I can’t breathe.'"
One of the mourners paying respects was Kadiatou Diallo, whose son Amadou Diallo was fatally shot by the police in 1999. Police fired 41 times at him as he reached for his wallet outside his apartment building. She told the Daily News, "It’s just so sad. It brings back terrible memories. After all these cases and all these years, nothing seems to change... It should never have happened, it should have been prevented."
One of Garner's daughters said, "Just knowing that my daughter's birthday is coming up -- my father never missed a birthday. Only thing my daughter asked for is for her Pop-pop to bring the cake. I don't know how to explain to her that Pop-pop this year is not bringing the cake."
Protesters also appeared at the funeral, to make their concerns clear. From the NY Times:
Just before and just after Mr. Sharpton’s appearance, a crowd of around 100 demonstrators on the sidewalks protested. A woman cried out, “One day it’s going to be your murder!” A man shouting “They killed him” was escorted off the block by men in orange shirts that said, “I Am Present for Peace.” Part of the crowd chanted, “No more.”
“Stop killing us,” a woman said to the face of a police captain. “And tell your friends to stop killing us.”
“O.K.,” he replied.
Garner's wife, Esaw, broke down, "He was supposed to be my rock... But now he is gone. He will never answer my call. I just want to cry."
Some at the church didn't know Garner. One man said to the Post, "I never met him, but I came to pay my respects. I came because I figured it could have been me. I saw this on TV and I said, ‘I have to be there.’"