Eric Holder Is Right: The Cop Who Killed Eric Garner Should Face a Federal Civil Rights Investigation


Yesterday afternoon a Staten Island grand jury failed to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the killing of Eric Garner, the black Staten Island man who died as a direct result of the chokehold employed by Officer Pantaleo. "Now that the local investigation has concluded," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder declared in a statement last night, "I am here to announce that the Justice Department will proceed with a federal civil rights investigation into Mr. Garner's death."

Attorney General Holder is entirely correct to launch this investigation. The video evidence in the case plainly shows a white police officer using excessive and ultimately lethal force against an unarmed, nonthreatening black suspect. The grand jury's failure to indict is an embarrassment to the rule of law and a striking miscarriage of justice. In effect, a black man who posed zero risk to either the police or to the public was nonetheless handed a death sentence by the NYPD for the alleged petty crime of selling untaxed loose cigarettes. There's no excuse for Officer Pantaleo's shameful treatment of Eric Garner.

Furthermore, Holder's decision to launch a federal inquiry is fully consistent with the original purposes of federal civil rights legislation, which dates back to the Civil Rights Act of 1866. That law was passed by the Republican-led 39th Congress in the wake of the Civil War in response to the former Confederate states' attempts to harass and oppress the recently freed slaves by stripping them of their newfound liberty and property, denying them the right to keep and bear arms for self-defense, and failing–or refusing–to provide them equal treatment under the law.

In other words, the whole point of federal civil rights law is to provide a legal check against state-sanctioned injustice, such as the egregious police misconduct that killed Eric Garner. Attorney General Holder should be commended for putting federal law to its intended purpose in this case.

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