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4:46 pm
Wed July 23, 2014

N.Y. Man's Death Prompts Police Introspection On Use Of Force

Originally published on Wed July 23, 2014 10:36 pm

Funeral services are being held for Eric Garner, a New York City man who died in police custody last week in Staten Island. A video of the incident shows one officer using an apparent chokehold on Garner before he died. The incident is prompting the New York Police Department to rethink how it trains all its officers in the use of force.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. The nation's largest police department is rethinking how it trains officers in the use of force. This comes after a New York City man died while in police custody last week. A video of Eric Garner's fatal run-in with police has been wildly viewed on the Internet. It shows an officer using an apparent chokehold on Garner before he died. Funeral services are being held today as NPR's Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Eric Garner was a big man, more than six feet tall and well over 300 pounds. Friends and neighbors say Garner was a towering presence in the Staten Island neighborhood where he lived.

ESTELLE SMITH: He's a big giant but a real teddy bear. He's just a lovable person.

ROSE: Estelle (Ph) Smith lives in the same apartment building where Garner, a father of six, lived with his wife and children. Smith came to the viewing in Brooklyn to pay her respects.

SMITH: He lived for his family. He loved his wife and his children. The hustling or whatever he did was for them - to survive.

ROSE: Garner was also well known to the NYPD. He'd been arrested before for selling untaxed cigarettes. Police allege that's what he was doing last Thursday in Staten Island, when they attempted to take him into custody. But Garner and witnesses on the scene say he was only trying to break up a fight between two other men. Garner's run-in with police was caught on cell phone video.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ERIC GARNER: Minding my business. A fight brake out I stop it. And you come running up on me? Are you serious? I didn't do nothing. What did I do?

ROSE: The video has gone viral since been published last week by the New York Daily News. You can hear Garner in the video pleading with police to leave him alone.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GARNER: Don't touch me. [Beep]

ROSE: Then one of the officers grabbed Garner from behind in an apparent chokehold, which is prohibited by department rules. The officer pulls him to the ground, then several other officers help hold him down. You can hear Garner in the video saying, I can't breathe.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GARNER: I can't breathe, I can't breathe.

ROSE: Eventually Garner stops protesting, he was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. Garner was 43 and suffered from a range of ailments including asthma. Community members have also complained about the response by emergency medical personnel. The exact cause of death has yet to be determined but the response for Mayor Bill de Blasio was swift.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DE BLASIO: It was very troubling.

ROSE: On Friday the office who applied the apparent chokehold was stripped of his gun and badge and moved to desk duty. And late yesterday Commissioner Bill Bratton said all 35,000 officers will be retrained in the use of force.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BILL BRATTON: A top to bottom review of all the training that this department provides to its personal, specifically focusing on initially use of force. How do we train our officers for takedown, how do we train them to use the various levels of force that they're authorized to use.

ROSE: Bratton says the NYPD will try to learn from other departments from around the country, including Los Angeles, where he was police chief for seven years. Bratton is credited with improving relations between the LAPD and communities of color, but outside Eric Garner's funeral, there was plenty of skepticism about whether Bratton can do the same here. Cynthia Lewis (Ph) lives in Brooklyn.

CYNTHIA LEWIS: It's getting worse and worser, you know, it's getting ridiculous. The police are getting out of hand and out-of-control. They just do what they wanted to do. Taxpayer - I'm a taxpayer, I pay their salary, you know, and I think it's a disgrace what they do to - black folks in particular.

ROSE: A criminal investigation into Garner's death by the Staten Island District Attorney is underway. The family is expected to file a civil lawsuit as well. Joel Rose, NPR NEWS, New York Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.