EXCLUSIVE: A MOTHER’S MISSION

Eric Garner’s mother Gwen Carr is demanding justice even after the recent firing of the former NYPD officer who administered the fatal chokehold that killed her son.

Aired on September 19, 2019. 

TRANSCRIPT

> I CAN'T BREATHE, THE LAST WORDS OF ERIC GARNER AS HE DIED WHILE IN A POLICE CHOKE HOLD.

AFTER FIVE YEARS OF INTERNAL INVESTIGATIONS AND NATIONAL PROTESTS, NEW YORK CITY'S POLICE COMMISSIONER FIRED DANIEL PANTALEO, THE NYPD OFFICER SEEN DETAINING GARNER, THE ACTIONS THAT LED TO HIS DEATH.

THE FIRING IS THE LATEST CHAPTER IN A CONTENTIOUS AND EMOTIONAL CASE THAT HAS DRAGGED ON FOR YEARS, AND PROMPTED CALLS FOR REFORM THROUGHOUT NEW YORK'S ENTIRE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM.

BUT FOR THE GARNER FAMILY, GETTING DANIEL PANTALEO STRIPPED OF HIS BADGE DOES NOT MARK THE END OF A QUEST FOR JUSTICE FOR ERIC GARNER BUT RATHER A CONTINUATION.

GARNER'S MOTHER, GWEN CARR HAS BEEN FIGHTING FOR JUST THAT.

WE WELCOME YOU BACK TO 'METROFOCUS' AND VISITING WITH US AGAIN.

.

THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME, JACK.

MY FIRST QUESTION TO YOU IS WHAT WAS YOUR IMMEDIATE EMOTIONAL REACTION WHEN YOU HEARD THE POLICE COMMISSIONER SAY THAT INDEED HE WAS GOING TO FOLLOW THE RECOMMENDATION AND FIRE DANIEL PANTALEO.

WELL, ACTUALLY WHEN I START LISTENING TO, YOU KNOW, HE WAS EXPLAINING WHAT HE WAS GOING TO DO, I WASN'T SURE HOW IT WAS GOING TO GO BECAUSE AT FIRST IT WAS IN MY MIND, OH, HE'S NOT GOING TO FIRE THIS OFFICER.

THEN AS HE CONTINUED TO TALK, WELL, NEIGHMAYBE HE WILL.

THEN AT THE VERY END WHEN HE SAID THAT HE WOULD FIRE THE OFFICER FOR HIS WRONG DOING, I JUST WAS OVERWHELMED, GOT VERY EMOTIONAL, AND I JUST BROKE DOWN INTO TEARS.

I WAS -- IT WAS A STEP THAT I WAS HOPING THAT WOULD HAPPEN BUT WASN'T SO SURE THAT IT WOULD, AND EVEN WITH THE FIRING OF PANTALEO, IT WAS NOT JUSTICE FOR ME, BUT IT WAS A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION.

WHEN YOU SAY I UNDERSTAND A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION, BUT WHY DO YOU SAY IT WASN'T JUSTICE FOR YOU?

WELL, ACTUALLY, FOR ERIC, THERE IS NO JUSTICE.

BECAUSE HE'S GONE.

NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS, IT'S NOT GOING TO BRING HIM BACK, AND FOR ME, THAT WAS SOMEWHAT OF CLOSURE BUT NOT JUSTICE.

JUSTICE WILL BE WHEN ALL THE OFFICERS WHO WAS INVOLVED IN MY SON'S MURDER THAT DAY WHEN THEY STAND ACCOUNTABLE FOR THEIR WRONG DOING, THEN THAT WOULD BE A SENSE OF JUSTICE.

NOW, THIS HAS BEEN INVESTIGATED, AS I MENTIONED IN OUR INTRODUCTION HERE, FOR YEARS NOW, AT VARIOUS LEVELS.

THE GRAND JURY IN STATEN ISLAND CHOSE NOT TO BRING ANY STATE LEVEL CHARGES.

THAT'S CORRECT.

AND FAIRLY RECENTLY THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT DECIDED NOT TO SEEK ANY FEDERAL CHARGES, ANY CIVIL RIGHTS CHARGES AGAINST DANIEL PANTALEO.

WERE YOU SURPRISED BY THAT DECISION BY THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT?

IT TOOK MANY YEARS, AND WE'RE TOLD THERE WAS SIGNIFICANT DIVISION WITHIN THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT ABOUT WHETHER THEY SHOULD MOVE FORWARD, THE DECISION WAS MADE NOT TO.

DID THAT SURPRISE YOU?

IT DIDN'T ACTUALLY SURPRISE ME, BUT IT DISAPPOINTED ME BECAUSE THEY SHOULD HAVE -- NO MATTER WHO IS IN OFFICE, I FEEL THAT THIS IS A DEMOCRACY, AND THEY SHOULD TAKE A FAIR LOOK AT WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED TO MY SON TO MAKE A DECISION, NOT BECAUSE OF THE ADMINISTRATION THAT IS IN CHARGE AT THAT TIME, BUT THEY JUST DECIDED NOT TO GO FORWARD AND THE REASON WAS SO LUDICROUS TO ME, AND I JUST THOUGHT IT WAS SUCH A DISAPPOINTMENT, SO DISPARAGING TO ME, THAT THEY WOULD NOT CONTINUE WITH THE CASE, SO I DIDN'T STOP.

I'M STILL -- I STILL HAVE HOPE BECAUSE SOMEONE HAS TO SEE THAT THIS IS WRONG.

THE WHOLE WORLD WATCHED MY SON BEING MURDERED ON VIDEO.

EVERYONE, THEY PROTESTED, THEY SUPPORTED ME, I HAD DIFFERENT ORGANIZATIONS LIKE THE NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK, THE CPR, JUSTICE COMMITTEE, THEY ALL CAME TO MY AID TO HELP ME TO FIGHT FOR THIS.

BECAUSE I KNOW I COULDN'T GET THIS FAR WITHOUT THE HELP OF THE MEDIA, WITHOUT THE HELP OF THE ORGANIZATIONS, AND THEY SEEN THAT I WAS SERIOUS ABOUT THIS FIGHT, SO THEY GOT BEHIND ME.

HOW DO YOU ANSWER PEOPLE WHO ARE FAMILIAR WITH THE SITUATION AND THEY WATCH YOU AND LISTEN TO YOU AND SAY, WHAT A TERRIBLE TRAGEDY, A TERRIBLE LOSS OF LIFE, BUT THEN THEY SAY, HOWEVER, THIS ENTIRE SITUATION WOULD NEVER HAVE HAD TO TAKE PLACE IF ERIC HAD NOT BEEN INVOLVED THIS THIS ACTIVITY THAT WAS AT SOME LEVEL ILLEGAL AND IF HE HAD IMMEDIATELY COOPERATED WITH POLICE.

WHAT DO YOU SAY TO THOSE PEOPLE?

WELL, I SAY TO THOSE PEOPLE HE WAS -- THEY WERE ALLEGEDLY ACCUSING HIM OF SELLING CIGARETTES THAT DAY, WHICH HE WAS NOT SELLING CIGARETTES THAT DAY, NOT SAYING THAT HE DIDN'T SELL CIGARETTES.

BUT EVEN IF HE WAS, EVEN IF THEY CAUGHT HIM SELLING A CIGARETTE, IT'S NOT A DEATH SENTENCE.

WHY WOULD HE KILL MY SON?

WHY WOULD HE MURDER MY SON FOR SELLING A CIGARETTE, WHICH HE WASN'T DOING THAT DAY?

SO I'VE SEEN PEOPLE -- I MEAN, I HAVE ACTUALLY SEEN LIKE AN INTERACTION WITH POLICE OFFICERS AND ANOTHER INDIVIDUAL WHERE THE POLICE ACTUALLY DEESCALATED A SITUATION WHERE THERE WAS ONE MAN CHASING ANOTHER MAN WITH A GUN, AND THE OFFICERS CORNERED HIM AND SAID I WOULD PUT THAT DOWN IF I WERE YOU, SON, I WOULD PUT IT DOWN, AND INSTEAD OF SAYING -- NOW, THEY WOULD HAVE BEEN JUSTIFIED, YOU KNOW, HE GOT THE GUN IN HIS HAND AND THEY'RE SURROUNDING HIM.

IF THEY'D HAVE SHOT HIM, THEY WOULD HAVE SAID, OH, THEY FEARED FOR HIS LIFE, THEY HAD A LOADED WEAPON BUT THEY CHOSE NOT TO TAKE HIS LIFE, AND I THINK THAT WAS VERY COMMENDABLE OF THEM.

DO YOU THINK THAT PERHAPS ONE OF THE LEGACIES OF YOUR SON'S DEATH MIGHT BE SIMILAR TO WHAT YOU JUST MENTIONED TO US NOW, BETTER TRAINING IN TERMS OF POLICE OFFICERS, BETTER RECOGNITION OF THE IDEA OF DEESCALATION, A BETTER DEVELOPMENT OF SKILLS THAT WOULD BE HELPFUL IN THOSE TYPES OF SITUATIONS SPECIFICALLY, AND GENERALLY, BETTER WAYS TO CREATE RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN POLICE OFFICERS AND THE COMMUNITY.

DO YOU THINK PERHAPS THAT IS STARTING TO HAPPEN?

THAT WOULD HELP A LOT.

BUT IT WOULD ONLY HELP IF THE POLICE OFFICERS ARE THERE TO DO THEIR JOB.

THERE ARE SOME POLICE OFFICERS WHO ARE ON THE FORCE THAT HAS THEIR OWN AGENDA.

THEY HAVE THEIR OWN SCHEDULE.

THEY'RE NOT GOING BY POLICE POLICIES, THEY'RE NOT GOING BY THE LAW, THEY'RE DOING THINGS THEIR OWN WAY, AND I FOUND THAT OUT WHEN I WENT TO THE DEPARTMENTAL TRIAL FOR MY SON.

THINGS THAT OFFICERS SAID THAT ONE OFFICER SAID BECAUSE MY SON WAS -- ONE OFFICER TWEETED, I MEAN, TEXT THE OTHER OFFICER, AND SAYS, OH, I THINK ERIC GARNER IS DOA, AND THE OFFICER SAID NOT A BIG DEAL.

SO NOW THAT REALLY REALLY GOT -- NOW, THAT OFFICER DOES NOT BELONG ON THE FORCE.

ANYTIME SOMEONE WHO'S IN YOUR -- THIS IS YOUR TOWN, THIS IS YOUR CITIZENS THAT YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BE POLICING OR SUPERVISING POLICING AND YOU'RE GOING TO SAY NOT A BIG DEAL BECAUSE A CIVILIAN IS LAYING ON THE GROUND, AN UNARMED CIVILIAN, LAYING ON THE GROUND, DOA, AND IT'S NOT A BIG DEAL.

NOW, THE SHOE SHOULD BE ON THE OTHER FOOT AND I WANT YOU TO SAY NOT A BIG DEAL OR SOMEONE SAY THAT ABOUT YOUR CHILD AND HOW WOULD YOU RESPOND TO THAT.

YOU MENTIONED IN YOUR LAST COMMENTS HERE SOME POLICE OFFICERS AND I'VE SAID THIS BEFORE, AS A PROSECUTOR, I PROSECUTED SOME POLICE OFFICERS.

AS A DEFENSE ATTORNEY, I DEFENDED SOME POLICE OFFICERS AND MY BELIEF HAS ALWAYS BEEN, MY BELIEF, THE VAST MAJORITY OF POLICE OFFICERS ARE GOOD PEOPLE DOING A GOOD JOB, THE PROBLEM IS SOME ARE NOT.

AND THAT'S WITH ANY PROFESSION, YOU WILL FIND THAT, AND THE DIFFERENCE IS WHEN YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT POLICING SOME WHO ARE NOT DOING A GOOD JOB ARE MUCH MORE PROBLEMATIC THAN IN OTHER PROFESSIONS.

RIGHT.

DO YOU FEEL IN THE YEARS SINCE ERIC'S DEATH, AND THE CONVERSATIONS YOU HAVE HAD WITH COMMUNITY LEADERS, WITH POLICE LEADERS, DO YOU FEEL -- AND LET'S FOCUS HERE ON NEW YORK CITY, DO YOU FEEL LIKE WE'RE MAKING PROGRESS IN BETTER RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN POLICE OFFICERS AND THE COMMUNITY AND BETTER TRAINING?

I THINK IN SOME AREAS WE ARE, BUT, AGAIN, IT COMES DOWN TO THE POLICE OFFICERS AND IT COMES DOWN TO THEIR SUPERIORS.

POLICE OFFICERS IS ONLY GOING TO GO AS FAR AS THEIR SUPERIORS ALLOW THEM TO.

NOW, YOU SHOULD KNOW THE PEOPLE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD WHO YOU ARE POLICING.

YOU SHOULD HAVE A BETTER RELATIONSHIP WITH THE PEOPLE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD WHO YOU ARE POLICING.

I KNOW WHEN I WAS A KID, IT WAS -- TO ME IT WAS BETTER BECAUSE THE POLICE OFFICERS WHO USED TO PATROL, THEY PATROLLED ON FOOT.

AND IF THEY SEE YOU DOING ANYTHING, THEY KNEW YOUR PARENTS, THEY WOULD TAKE YOU TO YOUR PARENTS OR THEY WOULD GO TO YOUR PARENTS' HOUSE AND SAY, OH, I SEEN YOUR SON ON THE CORNER.

HE WAS SHOOTING DICE OR I SEEN HIM DOING WHATEVER.

BUT IT WAS SUCH A BETTER COMMUNITY AND COMMUNICATION WITH THE POLICE OFFICERS AND THE COMMUNITY.

WE DON'T HAVE THAT NOW.

THEY RIDE AROUND IN THE CARS.

THEY DON'T GET OUT TO EVEN INTRODUCE THEMSELVES TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD, AND I THINK THAT WE HAVE TO COME BACK TO THAT IN ORDER FOR US TO HAVE BETTER RELATIONSHIPS.

IT MAY WELL BE AT THIS JUNCTURE THAT THERE MAY NOT BE ANYMORE OFFICIAL PROCEEDINGS WITH REGARD TO ERIC'S DEATH.

BUT I KNOW YOU HAVE SAID THIS IS NOT THE END OF THIS JOURNEY FOR YOU.

WHAT IS IT THAT YOU WANT TO ACCOMPLISH NOW, AND HOW DO YOU SEE YOURSELF MOVING FORWARD WITH THIS?

WELL, I'VE BEEN UP IN WASHINGTON, I TALKED TO THE LEGISLATURES UP THERE, TO THE CONGRESS, AND I'M ASKING THEM TO HAVE HEARINGS ON, YOU KNOW, LIKE WHEN THE DOJ SAID THAT THEY'RE NOT MOVING FORWARD, I WANT THEM TO DISCUSS THIS WHY DIDN'T THEY MOVE FORWARD, PICK THIS APART, AND SEE IF THEY WERE JUSTIFIED IN MAKING THAT DECISION.

YOU KNOW, I'M NOT JUST GOING TO STOP HERE BECAUSE THAT -- THE COMMISSIONER SAID HE'S NOT GOING TO FIRE -- HE'S NOT GOING TO BRING ANYMORE CHARGES TO THE OFFICERS THAT WERE INVOLVED IN THE -- IN MY SON'S DEATH THAT DAY.

THIS IS HIS FEELINGS AND I HAVE MY FEELINGS, THAT I'M STILL PUSHING FORWARD.

THIS IS MY JOURNEY FOR NOW BECAUSE IT'S NOT -- MY SON IS GONE, BUT THERE ARE OTHER LIVES OUT HERE THAT WE HAVE TO SAVE.

AND I THINK THAT THIS SHOULD BE A STEP IN WAKING UP THE WORLD, WAKING UP THE CITY TO SAY, HEY, WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS.

LET'S WEAN OUT THE BAD POLICE OFFICERS SO THAT WE'LL HAVE A BETTER CITY.

GWEN, I WANT TO THANK YOU FOR SPENDING SOME TIME WITH US, AND YOU HAVE ALWAYS BEEN VERY OPEN IN SHARING YOUR THOUGHTS AND YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT ALL OF THIS, AND AS WE SAID, HOPEFULLY FROM A TERRIBLE TRAGEDY MAY WELCOME SOMETHING PRODUCTIVE.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SPENDING TIME WITH US.

AND WE'LL TALK TO YOU AGAIN.

OKAY.

THANK YOU.

YOU BE WELL.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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