Eric Garner pleaded for his life as an aggressive NYPD officer put him in a chokehold on the sidewalk outside a beauty salon on Staten Island, NY, Thursday. "I can't breathe! I can't breathe!" Garner gasped as the cop held him in a death grip. Garner, an asthmatic father of six, died of cardiac arrest on the way to a hospital.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio postponed a vacation to Italy to meet with Garner's family and civic leaders. He called Garner's death a "very troubling" incident.
"This is a terrible tragedy that occurred yesterday. A terrible tragedy that no family should have to experience," said de Blasio, calling the video of the incident "very troubling."
Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the cop who put Garner in a chokehold, was stripped of his badge and gun and put on modified desk duty while the investigation is ongoing. Pantaleo has been accused of being heavy handed with other black suspects in the past.
The incident began when Garner, 43, was approached by a plainclothes officer. The officer was investigating a report that Garner was selling untaxed cigarettes. Garner vigorously denied the charge. A big man who stood 6'-4" and just a shade under 400 pounds, Garner raised both fists and told the officer not to touch him. A witness captured the scene on cell phone video as NYPD officers sneaked up on Garner from behind.
Four paramedics who responded to the scene on Thursday were placed on modified duty pending an investigation. It isn't clear what the paramedics did, or didn't do.
The NYPD has outlawed the use of chokeholds during arrests.
In a statement, Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch called Pantaleo's reassignment "a completely unwarranted, kneejerk reaction for political reasons." He said the move "effectively pre-judges this case and denies the officer the very benefit of a doubt that has long been part of the social contract that allows police officers to face the risks of this difficult and complex job."
Garner's 18-year-old son said he and his family are still struggling to understand the senseless tragedy.
“I want to ask the man that did it, ‘What made you choke him like that?’ ” Eric Snipes said. “What made him put his hand around his bare neck?”
On Saturday, Garner's friends and family held a rally organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton and other civic leaders.
"This crowd was composed of good, well-meaning people who understood that peace was the only option and were adamant that things remain calm over Eric's death," said New York photographer Joel Graham who shared his photos of the rally on CNN iReport. "I have been to protests that have been violent, but this crowd reflected who Eric was," he said.
"I had empathy for Eric and how he must have felt trying to catch his breath, and sympathy for the family. This was a heartfelt emotional protest because everyone loved Eric," he said.
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Photos: NY Daily News