New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill announced Monday that Daniel Pantaleo, the officer at the center of Eric Garner’s death, has been fired from the police force.
The decision comes more than five years after Garner died during an arrest on Staten Island. The 43-year-old was initially stopped for allegedly selling untaxed, loose cigarettes. After a confrontation, Pantaleo put Garner in a chokehold, which medical examiners said led to Garner having an asthmatic reaction and a heart attack. The incident was caught on video and Garner’s words — “I can’t breathe” — have been immortalized in anti–police brutality protests.
In announcing Pantaleo’s firing, O’Neill said if he were still a cop, as he was for 34 years, he may have made the same “mistakes” as Pantaleo. “Every time I watch that video I say to myself … ‘to Mr. Garner, don’t do it. Comply. Officer Pantaleo, don’t do it,’” the commissioner said. Ultimately though, O’Neill went along with the recommendation of a police judge, who ruled earlier this month that Pantaleo should lose his job for his role in Garner’s death.
In comments following O’Neill’s announcement, Emerald Snipes Garner, one of Eric Garner’s six children, praised the decision. “For Commissioner James O’Neill, I thank you for doing the right thing,” she said. “I truly, sincerely thank you for firing the officer.”
But Pantaleo’s firing was met with strong criticism from Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association of the City of New York. “The NYPD will remain rudderless and frozen and Commissioner O’Neill will never be able to bring it back,” Lynch said in a statement. “Now it is time for every police officer in this city to make their own choice. We are urging all New York City police officer to proceed with the utmost caution in this new reality, in which they may be deemed ‘reckless’ just for doing their job. We will uphold our oath, but we cannot and will not do so by needlessly jeopardizing our careers or personal safety.”