Protestors interrupted the ending of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's opening statement and the start of Sen. Cory Booker's statement during Wednesday night's Democratic Debate. The group yelled "Fire Pantaleo!" a reference to NYPD police officer Daniel Pantaleo, who is responsible for killing Eric Garner.
Garner was killed on Staten Island in 2014 when Pantaleo placed him in a chokehold. The entire event unfolded on camera, where Garner repeatedly said "I can't breathe." The ordeal sparked a national debate about police brutality, especially against people of color.
Earlier this month, the Department of Justice decided not to pursue charges against the officer, but protestors feel de Blasio should have fired Pantaleo from the NYPD.
Multiple protestors, including Women's March co-founders Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour, were removed from the event.
The chants sparked a discussion on the debate stage.
According to former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, Pantaleo should have been fired.
"Officer Pantaleo used a chokehold that was prohibited by NYPD. He did that for seven seconds, 11 different times. Eric Garner said he couldn't breathe," Castro said. "He [Pantaleo] knew what he was doing. He knew that he was killing Eric Garner and yet he has not been brought to justice. That police officer should be off the street."
CNN's Jake Tapper asked de Blasio was Pantaleo was still part of the NYPD.
"Why is he still on the force, the one that killed Eric Garner?" Tapper asked.
"Well, let me tell you. I know the Garner family. They've gone through extraordinary pain. They've gone through waiting for justice and they're going to get justice. There's finally going to be justice. I have confidence in that. In the next 30 days. In New York," de Blasio replied. "I have confidence in that. You know why? Because, for the first time, we are not waiting on the federal Justice Department, which told the City of New York that we could not proceed because the Justice Department was pursuing their prosecution."
De Blasio said years went by without the Department of Justice making a discussion.
"A lot of pain accrued. And, in the mean time, I'm working on making sure, and I have for five years, that this will never ever be another tragedy, that there will never be another Eric Garner, because we're changing fundamentally how we police," de Blasio explained.
At that moment, de Blasio called out former Vice President Joe Biden for his lack of action.
"Tell us, Mr. Vice President, what did you do to try and spur on the Justice Department to act in the Garner case?" de Blasio asked.
Biden responded by saying the Obama administration "did a lot," including reducing the federal prison population by 38,000 people.
"Number two, we insisted that we change the rules for police engagement," Biden explained. "They had to have– we provided body cameras. We made sure there were a lot of things that were changed in the process."
Biden reiterated the number of people the Obama administration released from federal prison, saying they're "talking about things that happened a long, long time ago."
"And now, all of a sudden, I find it fascinating that everyone is talking about how terrible I am on these issues," Biden said. "Barack Obama knew exactly who I was. He had 10 lawyers do a background check on me and everything about civil rights and civil liberties. And he chose me and he said it was the best decision he made. I'll take his judgment."
Democrats called out Bill de Blasio for not firing the officer accused of killing Eric Garner.— CNN (@CNN) August 1, 2019
“There is going to be justice in the next 30 days,” de Blasio said, pivoting to the decision by the DOJ not to bring charges against the officer. https://t.co/UYQUpGRULA #DemDebate pic.twitter.com/u5TGytVYAa
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was asked if de Blasio's handling of the Garner situation was adequate.
"No. He [Pantaleo] should be fired," Gillibrand said bluntly. "He should be fired now."
She went on to explain her meeting with Garner's mother.
"I sat down with Eric Garner's mother and I can tell you, when you've lost your son, when he begged for breath, when you know, because you have a video, when you know he said 'I can't breathe,' so many times, over and over again, when you know he [Pantaleo] used an illegal chokehold, that person should be fired," Gillibrand said.
"If I was the mayor I would have fired him but as president I would make sure that we had a full investigation, that the report was made public, and if I wasn't satisfied, we would have a consent decree."
Kirsten Gillibrand disagrees with Bill de Blasio’s handling of the NYPD officer who killed Eric Garner: “He should be fired. He should be fired now.” https://t.co/smAKZynlzS #DemDebate pic.twitter.com/f9juPsWaQ5— CNN (@CNN) August 1, 2019
Following the debate, de Blasio took to Twitter to further explain his position on the Garner case:
To the protestors in the audience today: I heard you. I saw you. I thank you.— Bill de Blasio (@BilldeBlasio) August 1, 2019
This is what democracy looks like and no one said it was pretty. #DemDebate
I want the Garner family and every single person hurt by the tragedy of his death to know they are seen and heard.— Bill de Blasio (@BilldeBlasio) August 1, 2019
We all watched Eric Garner's dying words. They haunted this nation. He NEVER should have died. #DemDebate
While I believe that respecting the process is the best way to get justice for Eric Garner's family, I recognize and identify with the pain people across this country are feeling. #DemDebate— Bill de Blasio (@BilldeBlasio) August 1, 2019
From ending a broken policy of stop-and-frisk to training our officers in implicit bias, we've fundamentally changed our city because of Eric Garner — so that a tragedy like this never happens again. #DemDebate— Bill de Blasio (@BilldeBlasio) August 1, 2019
.@TheJusticeDept waited FOUR years and 364 days to tell Eric’s mother they would do nothing. We made the mistake listening to them when they asked us to hold for federal action.— Bill de Blasio (@BilldeBlasio) August 1, 2019
We will never make that mistake again. #DemDebate