Funeral for Gowanus native Eric Garner turns sermon on NYPD brutality

Paying respects: Rev. Al Sharpton delivered a speech at Eric Garner’s funeral demanding the police officers who took him down with a chokehold before he died be prosecuted.
Photo by Steve Schnibbe

Al Sharpton brought the fire and brimstone to a Boerum Hill church on Wednesday at the funeral for the Gowanus native who died last week after police put him in a chokehold on Staten Island.

The liberal firebrand lashed out at the NYPD in front of hundreds of mourners gathered at Bethel Baptist Church in Boerum Hill to remember Eric Garner, the Staten Island father of six who died last Thursday after police took him down, one using the throat grab that the department banned in 1993. Sharpton demanded that the officers responsible be held accountable, beyond the reported reassignment of two officers involved to desk duty.

“You always have an excuse when this happens,” Sharpton said, drawing parallels to other men killed by New York cops. “What excuse can you come up with this time? There was no gun!”

The incident occurred on July 17, when, according to police, officers approached Garner after they saw him selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. Several videos of the arrest, beginning slightly after the confrontation started, have surfaced online, showing an agitated Garner begging cops to leave him alone.

“Every time you see me you want to harass me,” he shouts.

In the video Garner tells officers he had been breaking up a fight, and denied their charges of illegally selling untaxed cigarettes, a contention backed up by the videographer.

“I’m minding my business,” he says. “Please just leave me alone.”

When officers move in to arrest the heavyset Garner, one officer, Daniel Pantaleo, uses his elbow to choke Garner as he gasps and shouts, “I can’t breathe!”

Outside: Brooklyn Heights attorney and longtime Al Sharpton ally Sanford Rubenstein, center, facing camera, joins friends and family of Eric Garner before Garner’s funeral.
Photo by Steve Schnibbe

Garner died shortly thereafter although the medical examiner’s office has not declared an official cause of death.

Several pols joined Sharpton at the funeral, which was held near the Gowanus Houses where Garner spent his first 15 years. Public Advocate Letitia James took to the pulpit to pledge her support for new police training guidelines and the video-recording of all street stops.

“We will demand justice in the city of New York,” James said. “I promise a full and complete investigation.”

But for the Brownsville-raised Rev. Sharpton, who has spent much of the past three decades rallying people against perceived injustices affecting African Americans, new training guidelines aren’t enough.

“You don’t need training to stop choking a man after he says ‘I can’t breathe,’ ” he said, to cheers. “You need to be prosecuted.”

As the mourners filed out of the church, they struck up a chant of Garner’s last words:

“I can’t breathe.”

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at nhurowitz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz
Pressing for answers: Outside Eric Garner’s memorial service, demonstrator Josh Lopez said there is no question cops killed the Gowanus-raised dad, and he had the press clippings to prove it.
Photo by Steve Schnibbe

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