UPDATED: 9:22 p.m. EDT —
Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro brought up the Eric Garner case during the second Democratic debate in Detroit as an example of the need for true criminal justice reform. Garner’s name came up as Castro and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker were pointing out the apparent hypocrisy in former Vice President Joe Biden’s newfound embrace of criminal justice reform while still standing by the federal crime bill that he authored in 1994.
Castro name-dropping Garner opened up the floodgates for other candidates to join in and start piling it on de Blasio, forcing CNN anchor and debate moderator Jake Tapper to finally ask de Blasio why he never fired NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the cop who used an illegal chokehold to kill the unarmed Black man in broad daylight five years ago. Castro said Pantaleo “knew what he was doing” when Garner died. “The police officer should be off the streets,” Castro said to great applause.
When asked directly about it, de Blasio ducked the question and deflected blame to the Department of Justice before pledging that he would bring justice to Garner’s family within “30 days,” though he didn’t expound on that timeline.
“They’re going to get justice,” de Blasio said of Garner’s family. “I have confidence in that in the next 30 days,” he said, citing not having to wait “on the federal justice department.” De Blasio said he was working to make sure “there will never be another Eric Garner.” He then tried to somehow shift the blame to Biden.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand followed that up by saying that Pantaleo “should be fired now.”
California Sen. Kamala Harris joined in on the topic of Garner, but she also shifted blame to Trump’s DOJ — siding with de Blasio — and away from New York City’s mayor.
UPDATED: 9:05 p.m. EDT —
Audience members attending the second Democratic debate made quite clear their feelings about New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio‘s handling of the Eric Garner case. Protesters interrupted de Blasio’s opening statement Wednesday night with chants of “Fire Pantaleo,” the NYPD officer who used an illegal chokehold on Garner as the unarmed Black man died on a Staten Island sidewalk five years ago.
Still, despite the obvious hunger from audience members to have de Blasio asked about why he hasn’t taken any action against Daniel Pantaleo in the aftermath of the shocking death that was recorded on video for the world to see, moderators through their first hour of the debate would not.
Whoever was manning de Blasio’s Twitter account tweeted a series of inadequate responses to the protesters and directly appealed to “the Garner family and every single person hurt by the tragedy of his death to know they are seen and heard. We all watched Eric Garner’s dying words. They haunted this nation. He NEVER should have died.”
Don Lemon’s question to presidential candidates about how to “heal the racist divide in America” was the closest the 10 Democrats in Detroit Tuesday night got to debating the epidemic of police brazenly killing Black people without consequence. But that wasn’t the case last month when an even larger group of Democratic White House hopefuls singled out South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and his [mis]handling of a controversial shooting of a Black man.
So why then has New York Mayor Bill de Blasio avoided the same level of scrutiny during his lone debate appearance on June 26. I am, of course, referring to the NYPD’s public execution of Eric Garner, a killing recorded and filmed on video for the world to see how little the city’s police force values Black life.
Prior to the last debate, a farce of an NYPD administrative trial for Daniel Pantaleo, the cop who employed the illegal and ultimately deadly chokehold on Garner, ended without any resolution. Since the last debate, U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr declined to bring federal charges against Pantaleo. The very next day was the five-year anniversary of what many people have called a murder. Throughout it all, de Blasio has been mum.
As Pantaleo remains a very high paid member of the NYPD, people hoping for any semblance of justice and hoping Garner’s death would not be in vain were looking to de Blasio to at the very least fire the officer. But de Blasio hasn’t acted. In fact, New York City Public Advocate and former City Councilmember Jumaane Williams penned a scathing, damning timeline recounting at least 11 times de Blasio “failed to hold Officer Daniel Pantaleo to account.”
Should the topic of how to “heal the racist divide in America” come up again in the second installment of the second round of Democratic debates on Wednesday night, why on earth wouldn’t anybody bring up Garner as an example of the persistent trend of police killing unarmed Black people?
Twitter users asked the same question in the hours ahead of Wednesday night’s debate, saying in part that Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, deserves to be treated with the dignity that has been missing from the ordeal.
While some gave De Blasio glowing marks for his performance in the first debate, others took umbrage at how he used his half-Black son to redirect the conversation on race — twice — to himself despite appearing to distance himself from the Garner case.
But the bottom line is that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Buttigieg may not be handling the shooting of 54-year-old Eric Logan in the most ideal way, but he does appear to be addressing it. In fact, he was forced to do so on the debate stage on national TV.
That’s why Wednesday night is the perfect chance for de Blasio to also explain himself and his inactions to the country that he has unrealistic ambitions of leading.
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