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World Eric Garner’s mother speaks out on the five-year anniversary of his death

Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, urged the New York City police commissioner to fire the officer involved in her son's death.

DEMETRIUS FREEMAN/The New York Times News Service

Eric Garner’s mother urged the New York City police commissioner to fire the officer accused of using a chokehold in the death of her son, as she marked the five-year anniversary of her loss Wednesday.

Gwen Carr spoke the day after the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would not prosecute the officer.

“We’ve been failed by every other source,” she said on CBS. “He should be fired. At least that would give me closure.”

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Carr said that when federal prosecutors summoned her family to disclose their findings, “We thought we were going to get some positive news.”

“There is no justice for Eric,” she added. “How do you forgive? … As a Christian you’re supposed to forgive.”

Speaking later in a radio interview, Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “Everyone gets due process. By state law that is the police commissioner’s decision.”

Federal prosecutors said Tuesday that they won’t bring civil rights charges against Daniel Pantaleo, the white officer involved in the 2014 death of Garner, a black man who refused to be handcuffed after being accused of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.

Chokeholds are banned under police policy. Pantaleo maintained he used a legal takedown manoeuvre called the “seat belt.”

His dying words – “I can’t breathe” – became a national rallying cry against police brutality.

The decision to end the investigation was made by Attorney General William Barr and was announced just as the statute of limitations was set to expire.

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Garner’s family was incensed by the decision, the latest from a Justice Department under President Donald Trump that has scaled back the use of consent decrees aimed at improving local police departments that were found to have violated civil rights.

“We thought the Justice Department was going to be the arbiter,” De Blasio, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, said on radio station Hot 97. “We now know that we can no longer depend on the federal government at all.”

The mayor’s office said Police Commissioner James O’Neill is expected to decide Pantaleo’s fate by Aug. 31 – after he receives a report from the administrative judge overseeing his departmental hearing. Potential punishment ranges from loss of vacation days to termination.

The NYPD, citing “the integrity of the process,” declined to comment further after Deputy Commissioner Phillip Walzak issued a statement on Tuesday saying that O’Neill was awaiting a report before making his decision.

Pantaleo’s lawyer, Stuart London, said Tuesday that the officer “is gratified that the Justice Department took the time to carefully review the actual evidence in this case rather than the lies and inaccuracies which followed this case from its inception.”

Richard Donoghue, the U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn, said Tuesday that while Garner’s death was tragic, there was insufficient evidence to prove that Pantaleo or any other officers involved in the confrontation on a Staten Island sidewalk had wilfully violated his civil rights.

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Pantaleo initially tried to use two approved restraint tactics on Garner, much larger at 6-foot-2 and about 400 pounds, but ended up wrapping his arm around Garner’s neck “in what was, in effect, a chokehold” for about seven seconds as they struggled against a glass storefront window and fell to the sidewalk, Donoghue said.

“Significantly, Officer Pantaleo was not engaged in a chokehold on Mr. Garner when he said he could not breathe, and neither Officer Pantaleo nor any other officer applied a chokehold to Mr. Garner after he first said he could not breathe,” Donoghue said.

In a video shot by a bystander, Garner could be heard crying out, “I can’t breathe,” at least 11 times before he fell unconscious. The medical examiner’s office said a chokehold contributed to Garner’s death.

In the years since Garner’s death, the NYPD has made sweeping changes on how it relates to the communities it serves, ditching a policy of putting rookie officers in higher-crime precincts in favour of a neighbourhood policing model that revolves around community officers tasked with getting to know New Yorkers.

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