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Rallies, Memorials Mark Anniversary of Eric Garner's Death

Family and supporters are still calling for justice a year after Garner, a father of six, died when an NYPD officer put him in an illegal chokehold.

by VICE News
Jul 17 2015, 8:32pm

Photo by John Minchillo/AP

VICE News is closely watching policing in America. Check out the Officer Involved blog here.

On the first anniversary of Eric Garner's death, protesters held rallies Friday across the streets of New York and Staten Island where the 43-year-old suffocated to death when an NYPD police officer put him in an illegal chokehold last summer.

In Tompkinsville, Staten Island, Garner's 15 month-old daughter, Legacy Garner, and her mother, Jewel Miller, released a white dove at the exact spot where Garner, who was asthmatic, declared, "I can't breathe," 11 times on July 17, 2014 before losing consciousness as a police officer gripped his neck.

Shortly before the dove was released, a crowd of roughly three dozen people chanted the phrase 11 times again Friday morning. In the months after Garner's death, the phrase became a rallying cry heard during mass demonstrations across America as part of a spreading movement against police brutality and use of fatal force.

Garner, a father of six who was unarmed at the time of his arrest, was allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes outside a convenience store when NYPD approached him. When he allegedly resisted being handcuffed, officer Daniel Pantaleo placed him in a chokehold — a tactic that that has been prohibited in the NYPD patrol guide since 1993.

On Friday, another of Garner's daughters, Erica Garner, took to Twitter to call for justice for her father's death.

Although the city medical examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide and bystanders recorded cell phone video of the incident, a Staten Island grand jury decided against indicting Pantaleo in December, 2014.

Related: President Obama Heads to Prison in Pursuit of Criminal Justice Reform

The decision came just weeks after a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri declined to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed unarmed black teen Michael Brown on August 9, 2014. Garner and Brown are among a number of high-profile cases that helped mobilize the Black Lives Matter Movement, which has rallied on issues of excessive policing and racial bias.

The movement has gained wide support from the public, celebrities, and even the White House.

"Power concedes nothing without a fight," President Obama said in December as demonstrators took to the streets in many major US cities over the Garner grand jury decision. "The value of peaceful protests, activism… is it reminds the society this is not yet done."

The anniversary of Garner's death comes as the president pushes for reforms to the country's criminal justice system to address the inequities of a system "skewed by race and wealth."

"We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York," Obama said during an address to the NAACP's 106th annual convention in Philadelphia Tuesday. "But surely we can understand a father who fears his son can't walk home without being harassed. Surely we can understand the wife who won't rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door at the end of his shift."

Related: Obama Outlines Criminal Justice Reform Plan After Year of Police Killings and Protests

On Monday, New York City offered Eric Garner's family a $5.9 million settlement, which they have yet to formally accept. A federal civil rights investigation and a separate NYPD Internal Affairs inquiry into the incident are ongoing.

Officer Pantaleo, who has twice been at the center of lawsuits alleging racially-motivated misconduct, was stripped of his gun and badge and relegated to desk work. The officer has received death threats and is routinely guarded by police officers at his Staten Island home, but his lawyer told the New York Daily News that he can't wait to start patrolling the streets again.

At least three church services and a candlelight vigil for Garner have been planned in New York over the weekend.