Protesters appeared to chant “Fire Pantaleo” at New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio during the Democratic primary debate on Wednesday night, referencing the New York City police officer that put Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold.
The chants came during Sen. Cory Booker’s opening statement, cutting him off and forcing Booker to pause while the protesters were escorted out.
NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo was caught on cellphone video with his arms around Garner’s neck back in 2014. Garner’s dying words were “I can’t breathe!” and his death helped catalyze the national Black Lives Matter movement and spark protests against the lethal use of force by law enforcement.
Recently, Attorney General William Barr ordered the Justice Department to drop the federal case against Pantaleo. He had been facing civil rights charges, and a Staten Island grand jury had also declined to indict him.
Pantaleo still has his job in the New York Police Department, which has led to criticism of de Blasio. But one of the New York City mayor’s surrogates said he was legally barred from firing Pantaleo.
“I have no doubt that if due process permitted an immediate firing, I believe the mayor would have fired him immediately,” Bronx Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda told the New York Post of Pantaleo. “But unfortunately, these are things he cannot do, legally.”