[JURIST] US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] announced [press release] Wednesday that the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] will launch a civil rights investigation into the death of Eric Garner, the unarmed black man who was killed last summer after being placed in a choke hold by a white New York City police officer during an arrest. The announcement was made shortly after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict [NYT report] the officers in Garner’s arrest. Garner died July 17 after being placed in a choke hold by Officer David Pantaleo. The incident was caught on tape, and shows Garner was unarmed. After Garner was taken down by Pantaleo, Garner can be heard on tape saying, “I can’t breathe.” Holder said that DOJ prosecutors “will conduct an independent, thorough, fair and expeditious investigation,” as well as a complete review of information gathered by the local investigation. “We have all seen the video of Mr. Garner’s arrest,” said Holder:
All lives must be valued. Mr. Garner’s death is one of several recent incidents across the country that have tested the sense of trust that must exist between law enforcement and the communities they are charged to serve and protect. This is not a New York issue or a Ferguson issue alone. Those who have protested peacefully across our great nation following the grand jury’s decision in Ferguson have made that clear.
The Staten Island decision follows a similar decision made by a grand jury in Missouri in the case of Michael Brown. The death of Michael Brown [USA Today report], an African American teenager, has prompted mass protests as many Ferguson residents believe the killing was racially motivated. Last week a grand jury in Ferguson Missouri decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson [JURIST report]. In October Amnesty International reported that police in Ferguson committed human rights abuses [JURIST report] against peaceful protestors. Earlier in October a federal judge ruled that a tactic employed by police to control protestors in Ferguson in August was unconstitutional and issued a preliminary injunction [JURIST report]. In late August five people brought a lawsuit against the city of Ferguson [JURIST report] for the use of unnecessary and unwarranted force by St. Louis County Police and Ferguson Police.