A week after reaching a settlement agreement with six Occupy Wall Street Protesters for conduct that occurred in the early days of the 2011 protest; New York City agreed on Monday to give the Estate of Eric Garner $5.9 million. Garner was killed last July in Staten Island after being detained by police after being spotted selling single cigarettes, in violation of city law. A bystander captured cell-phone video footage of the incident where it appeared that Garner was put in a chokehold and collapsed after yelling to the police that he couldn’t breathe 11 times. Garner, who weighed over 300 pounds and in poor health, died shortly after the incident. In the aftermath of the Ferguson protests, a grand jury failed to indict the officers involved last December, reigniting the embers of protest over police treatment of unarmed blacks by police in New York and throughout the country. The incident also caused a political war between New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who supported the protests and expressed concerns about the police’s treatment of his own mixed-race son. NYPD representatives and supporters hammered de Blasio, claiming that he was inciting unwarranted hatred of police. The war of words escalated following the murder of two New York police officers in the weeks following the grand jury verdict and subsequent protests.
The pretrial settlement comes just days before the anniversary of Garner’s death, and Garner’s family set Friday’s anniversary as the deadline for the city to come to terms before they would move forward with a lawsuit. Wrongful death claimants have up to two years to sue. Garner’s widow, Esaw Garner, and mother, Gwen Carr, filed a notice of claim for the city to review last October. In a telephone interview, New York City’s comptroller Scott Stringer said, “Following a judicious review of the claim and facts of this case, my office was able to reach a settlement with the estate of Eric Garner that is in the best interests of all parties.” Stringer added, “Mr. Garner’s death is a touchstone in our city’s history and in the history of the entire nation. Financial compensation is certainly not everything, and it can’t bring Mr. Garner back. But it is our way of creating balance and giving a family a certain closure.” Civil rights advocate, Al Sharpton, responded to the agreement by saying, “This is not about people getting money. This is about justice. We’ve got to restructure our police departments and how we deal with policing nationwide.”
As per the settlement, the city denies liability for the incident, and the grand jury failed to indict the officers involved; however the department still faces probes from the U.S. Attorney’s office and New York’s Civilian Complaint Review Board, among others. Garner’s family had previously settled with Richmond University Medical Center, the hospital which sent the first responders to treat Garner. Despite the confidential agreement, state health officers are investigating the hospital over the first responders’ conduct. The grand jury’s failure to indict and its resulting protests were part of year-long unrest over a string of questionable deaths involving police behavior toward unarmed minorities. In addition to preceding events in Ferguson, Cleveland, and Milwaukee, the wave continued into 2015 with similar deaths in Baltimore, Charleston, South Carolina, and Oklahoma, among others. Unlike the earlier incidents, however, personnel from the latter cases are facing indictments. Stringer noted the change in the nation and especially in New York, saying “It forced us to examine the state of race relations, and the relationship between our police force and the people they serve.” De Blasio also concurred that the events have led to improved police tactics, adding “I think we’ve come a long way, even in the last year, in terms of bringing police and community together. The whole police force is being retrained.”
CNN – Kevin Conlon
New York Times – J. David Goodman