New York Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez Discusses Akai Gurley , Eric Garner Cases

[T]he shooting death of an unarmed teen named Michael Brown re-ignited a civil right’s debate regarding police officers treatment of African-American men. Demonstrations have been taking place around the country since November 24. That’s when a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri decided not to indict former police officer Darren Wilson, who is white, on criminal charges, after Brown, who was black, was shot seven times and killed during a confrontation on August 9, 2014.

Unfortunately, another high-profile case involving excessive force by a police officer was also being decided by a grand jury in Staten Island, New York. In July of 2014, a bystander’s cell phone captured footage of a confrontation between Eric Garner, 43 and 29-year-old NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo. Officer Pantaleo was observed putting Garner in a chokehold that was banned by the NYPD in 1993, after several suspects died from asphyxia.

As Garner fought for his life telling other officers on the scene “I can’t breathe,” EMT workers who responded to the incident were caught on camera lollygagging, as Garner took his final breath. Later in July, the two paramedics and two EMT’s working for Richmond University Medical Center who sat idle as Garner lay dying, were suspended without pay.

For many, the decision not to indict officer Pantaleo in the Garner case was even more shocking, since the evidence seemed irrefutable.

Democrat Nydia M. Velázquez is a congresswoman who represents New York’s 7th Congressional District. In 1992, Velázquez made history by becoming the first Puerto Rican woman to be elected to the House of Representatives. For Velázquez, the grand jury’s failure to indict officer Pantaleo sends the wrong message to The NYPD, one that could lead to further abuses of power.

“I am profoundly saddened and perplexed that, after reviewing the available video evidence, a Grand Jury could not find grounds for an indictment,” Velázquez told CollegeHipHop.com in a statement. “Not only does this ruling send the wrong message to the police department – that this type of police abuse is permissible – but it sends a message to young people of color in communities like Red Hook and Sunset Park, telling them no one will protect them or their rights.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYSnp1UGVGc
A bystander’s camera caught the final moments of Eric Garner’s life. Garner, 43, was choked and killed by 29-year-old New York Police Department officer Daniel Pantaleo. A Staten Island grand jury ruled that no criminal charges would be filed against officer Pantaleo.

Congresswoman Velázquez noted the recent cases in Ferguson, New York and Cleveland, stating that these types of incidents would lead to more distrust between law officers and minority communities.

In fact, Congresswoman Velázquez dealt with high-profile police incidents in her district in 2014. In November, a probationary officer named Peter Liang shot and killed an unarmed African-American man named Akai Gurley, in a stairwell in The Louis H. Pink Houses in Brooklyn, New York. The New York Medical Examiner’s office ruled Gurley’s death a homicide.

Like Garner’s case, the ruling does not mean charges will be brought against officer Liang, according to a statement issued by the Medical Examiner’s Office, although a civil rights investigation is underway. 

“The recent tragedies in Ferguson and Cleveland remind us that the deep rift of distrust between our communities and local law enforcement is a national problem – and one that demands a national conversation on race and police practices,” Velázquez said. “Whether it is the Eric Garner case or the incident surrounding Akai Gurley, the young man from my district shot by a police officer, or incidents of police violence in Sunset Park, it is clear that issues of police abuse against minorities remain prevalent and demand a thorough response.”

Congresswoman Velázquez approved of a federal investigation into the Eric Gardner case and called for legislative reforms to prevent the abuse of police power.

“Just as the federal government must intervene to seek justice for the Garner family, we also need broader law enforcement reforms that prevent future similar tragedies. It is time for the Department of Justice to begin carefully and thoroughly cataloging allegations of police brutality to determine areas where these problems are most common,” said Velázquez.

Velázquez also sent a message a little closer to home – to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, whom she called upon to end the policy of “broken window” policing. According to a report by international civil issues research company The Campbell Collaboration, “broken window” policing is when police pay attention to small crimes and infractions, with the thought that it will improve the general social order and discourage more serious crimes from taking place.  Critics of the police tactic claim it unfairly targets minorities and leads to police harassment and abuse.

“I would also call on Mayor de Blasio to end the policy of ‘broken windows’ policing, which too often results in law enforcement harassment of young men of color and fails to make communities safer,” Congresswoman Velázquez stated.

Velázquez called on residents of New York to come together to find resolutions to prevent further hostilities between police and local communities.

“It is my hope that some good can come from this tragedy if we continue striving for progress,” said Congresswoman Velázquez. “I call on all in our City to come together and continue pursuing justice through peaceful, constructive means.”

Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton have ordered the NYPD, which is the nation’s largest police force with 22,000 uniformed officers, to undergo a three-day retraining course on alternative ways to peacefully resolve conflicts and other issues.

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