Mayor Bill de Blasio Presses Officer Pantaleo Termination in the Eric Garner Death Case
Read press conference transcript.
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Today in our city we ended a chapter that has brought our people so much pain and so much fear over these last five years. The pain was because we all watched a human being die before our eyes on a video, watched a man who should be still alive today. And it was so difficult for all of us to reconcile what we saw with what we must believe about law enforcement. Our officers are here to protect us, to keep us safe and yet we watched a man die, an unarmed man and it caused so many people to ask, what if that was my brother right there in that situation, what if that was my son, what if that was my father, what if that was me?
The fear was because for a long time people wondered if we would be left without justice. The place that we had turned for generations to, the place that was synonymous with making things right failed us, the United States Department of Justice, absent and unwilling to act even to come to any decision for five long years. But today we have finally seen justice done. Today we saw the NYPD’s own disciplinary process act fairly and impartially. For years, people have questioned whether a police department can provide justice for all and we watched a fair and impartial trial, we watched an objective decision by a Deputy Commissioner of the NYPD, affirmed by the First Deputy Commissioner and affirmed by the Police Commissioner. Justice has been done.
And that decision has resulted in the termination of Officer Pantaleo. For the Garner family that has gone through so much agony for so long and has waited this long just to have one trial finally conclude with a decision. I hope today brings some small measure of closure. Today will not bring Eric Garner back but I hope it brings some small measure of closure and peace to the Garner family.
Now we have to look beyond this tragedy because our city is at a pivotal moment. And I am reminded of what Dr. King taught us, paraphrasing him – in moments of suffering or difficulty there are two ways we can respond. We can react with bitterness and division and we can be trapped by the sins of our past. Or we can transform the suffering into progress. We can find redemption. We can use a moment like this to turn it into something better, to move ourselves forward. And that is for all of us to do. We can’t have the illusion that someone else creates a better society. That is for all of us to do and we have to do it. We have to all create something better.
And I see this as a sacred mission we all must take on, we must devote ourselves to this simple goal that no person, no family, no community should ever go through the agony that we’ve all experienced here over these last years. It should never happen again in this city or this country as the only goal that is acceptable. Let this be the last tragedy. To actually get there, we all have to confront our history honestly. And it’s not a history that we can always be proud of. It’s something that we have to own up to and deal with. But I know that the NYPD of today is a different institution than it was just a few years ago. I know the NYPD has changed profoundly. I know that members of the NYPD learned the lessons of this tragedy. They acted on it, they did something about it. It is a beginning, but we have a lot more to do and the change has to get deeper and deeper. And that is not a top-down enterprise – that is for all of us to do.
So I want to say to our police officers, and I say this at every graduation ceremony – you made a choice, a good and noble choice to serve others, to protect others. You did it because you want to help people. That’s why people join the NYPD. It is extremely demanding work. I know that. And I want all New Yorkers to know that. And to our officers – a simple statement, we need you and we need you to build deeper trust with all the people you serve. Because that is not only the right thing to do, it is the best way to keep everyone safe, officers and civilians alike.
And I want to say to the people of our city that I truly believe that change can happen, that I truly believe that justice can be done. And I ask everyone to believe that because that is the only way we will make the change. Today provides some evidence that there can be justice, but we have a lot more to do. I am asking all New Yorkers to be part of moving this city forward. Work with our police officers, keep each other safe, build trust with our officers. It’s up to everyone. Members of our communities all over the city also have to step forward with an open hand to our police officers, engage them and thank them and listen to them just as our officers must engage and thank and listen to community members who come forward in common cause. So we must move forward from today with a common and singular purpose. This must be the last tragedy that we experience. This must be the last time we have to say one to another, never again. We will never let this happen in our city again. And that’ll take a lot of work and it will take a lot of time. But that change can happen. And as this chapter ends today, I know we can build a New York City that ensures fairness and justice for all.
I want to say a few quick words in Spanish.
[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]
With that, I’ll take your questions.
Question: Mr. Mayor, what’s your message to the NYTD officers who believe that you and Commissioner O’Neill don’t have their backs, and to think that belief is the cemented by today’s decision to the fire officer Pantaleo?
Mayor: There is no one who cares more about the police officers of this city than Commissioner O’Neill who has devoted his entire lifetime to policing. And when you look at administration after administration, what administrations have actually done for police officers. I can tell you from the bottom of my heart that I know every single day we’ve tried to help our officers support our officers, give them the tools they need, give them the protection they need – that’s been my commitment. And I say it to the parents and the family members at every graduation and I’ve lived that way and put it into action. So, I think what matters today is that there was a fair and impartial process and justice was done.
Question:Mr. Mayor, part of what the Commissioner said to today, to follow up on [inaudible] question was that, he was a police officer – if he was in uniform today, that he’s mad at himself for this decision. So, how can the Police Commissioner who continue to serve and lead the Department is pretty much acknowledged today that he understands why officers are going to be angry at him?
Mayor:Because he also said something I think profoundly important about our officers that gets back to what I said a moment ago about why people choose to join the NYPD – they join out of a commitment. It’s a calling, and it’s a noble calling, and they join to do good. And I have spoken to countless officers and they understand that there’s going to be tough times, but they are here to serve others and they do an extraordinary job. And the Commissioner said, it’s a resilient organization – and he’s right. He’s right – these are individuals who made a really tough decision to begin with to join and that’s the measure of them. So, I believe in my heart that despite whatever individual opinion someone holds, they are professionals of the highest order. And just what the Commissioner said, an hour from now a New Yorker will be in danger and I guarantee you our officers will do what they swore that oath to do because that’s who they are. They believe in their job. They believe in their mission.
Question:Mr. Mayor, I just wonder what you would say to police officers today, to the rank and file who are upset with this decision?
Mayor:Marcia, I would say you saw an NYPD trial – a full open public trial where evidence was presented, particularly focusing on the use of a prohibited action, a chokehold, and that fair and impartial trial led to a result, and that’s what the justice system is supposed to do. And I believe, in the end, what everyone wants is that there actually is a fair and impartial process, and that’s what happened here.
Mayor:I have said to you, Marcia, and to everyone. I’ve talked to a lot of officers and a lot of officers I’ve talked know that neighborhood policing is better for everyone, including our officers. They know that the support we provided, the retraining, the new equipment, the 2,000 additional officers on patrol, that these things help our officers be safe – they know. I’ve been very honest with you about the police union, the PBA, and the role they play, but there’s 36,000 officers, each with their own view. I never mistake what the words of a few union leaders say versus what the people of the Department believe.
Question: Mr. Mayor, it’s been five years since Eric Garner’s death and we’re only seeing a decision on the police officers’ occupation now. Are you satisfied with that timeline, considering there’s been so much pain and protest –
Mayor:No, of course not –
Question:If not, what’s been done to change that?
Mayor:First of all, the most important thing we can do to change is to never have the tragedy again. And that actually – when you look at everything that has happened – and Commissioner O’Neill referred to this – when you look at everything that has happened literally from just days after this tragedy until today, the retraining of this entire police force – retraining 36,000 officers regularly to deescalate so that exact incident would not happen again; the implicit bias training, because we’re all humans with biases and it needs to be weeded out and the only way to do that is to help people understand those biases so they can act on them. The body cameras – if you go back to that day in 2014 none of those things were here. It’s a very different department.
So, I feel this passionately – job-one is to make sure there’s never another incident like this, period – period. I don’t like when people say, well, when the next one happens – there can’t be a next one. We can’t act like we assume there’s going to be a next one. We have to do everything that we possibly can do to avoid there ever being another tragedy. If they ever were, God forbid, we would not believe that the Justice Department is the place to turn for justice. I said that weeks ago. I’ve never seen anything in my life like what we saw here – a refusal of the Justice Department make any decision whatsoever. So, the Commissioner said this earlier – if, God forbid, we ever confronted this again, despite every effort we want to make to never have another, we will proceed with our own process. We will not wait.
Question:I understand that you and the Police Commissioner spoke before he made this decision today. To what extent did you, you know, influence this outcome? Did you tell him at any point I think you should fire –
Mayor: No, this was the Police Commissioner’s decision. As you heard, he based it on a trial and the results of that trial coming from a Deputy Commissioner and the First Deputy Commissioner. This was his decision.
Question:What exactly did you guys talk about?
Mayor: As he indicated, we talked about the timing and how to prepare the City in any event of any specific decision. But he made the decision.
Question:Today, Officer Pantaleo’s attorney and some people with the PBA are telling us that they were made an offer last week by the highest ranks of the Police Department that they would enable Mr. Pantaleo to do something short of a termination. It would be a separation of service that would have been able make him retain a partial pension, but that deal was taken off the table on Saturday. Are you aware of this? Did you –
Mayor:Melissa, first of all, I’m not aware of every conversation everyone had with everyone, it would be irresponsible to suggest otherwise. I’m saying something very straightforward and consistent. I have tremendous respect for Commissioner O’Neill. I have found him to be an extraordinarily fair minded person in all the years I’ve known him. And he, by law, was the decision-maker and he made the decision. I don’t know about every discussion anyone had with anyone else. I know he made the decision.
Question:Mr. Mayor, what will you do to address any potential slow down [inaudible] PBA seems to be suggesting might take place as a result?
Mayor:Look, the people of this city will not accept any work slowdowns by any public servants. They did not accept it in 2015, they will not accept it today. I want to believe that there are some limits that even a union leader who often has been willing to be divisive understands it’s not legal to suggest a work slowdown. And I believe the men and women of the NYPD do not think that way. I think they’re here to do their job.
Question:What will you do in case there is one –
Mayor:Again, I believe fundamentally – and we have evidence from an experience a few years ago – that the men and women of the Police Department will do their job, and if the union keeps trying to tell people not to do their job, the public will be the ones to address that issue very forcefully.
Question:[Inaudible] slowdown in 2015 –
Mayor: And it was addressed.
Go ahead –
Question:Mr. Mayor, it took five years to get here. There are people in communities of color that feel like the process for holding police officers accountable is still completely broken. What do you say to them and how do you fix that distrust?
Mayor:I believe we have a lot more work to do in this country, for sure. But again, I hope today is a step towards reconciliation and a step toward the building of trust. And look, I ask people to put this into some perspective. This was the NYPD’s own process. There was a lot at a time in our history where one would have imagined that an internal disciplinary process would not have been fair and objective, but this one obviously was – you can see it in every step of what happened here. And I think that’s something that hopefully will give people a sense of hope.
Question:[Inaudible] Pat Lynch just now said that Police Department brass met with you and [inaudible] Pantaleo’s pension, which originally –
Mayor: Again,don’t believe anything Pat Lynch says. I’ve said very clearly. This is their –
Mayor:Marsha, I’m going to repeat it again. The Commissioner made this decision, period.
Question:On that point about when – it was two very quick questions – when you learned about it, what was your feeling? Feel relieved at that moment?
Mayor:I felt that justice was served, that there was a fair and impartial process that yielded justice. That’s what I felt.
Question: [Inaudible] thinking back on this incident, the Police Commissioner said today that could identify with the officer – Officer Pantaleo. He talked folks watching a man die before their eyes. When you watch that video and think about [inaudible] who do you identify with [inaudible]?
Mayor:I think people saw that as human beings, right? We’re watching someone die. I understand if you’re a professional, you might see it through the eyes of that profession, and I respect that. But first thing I felt – I think anyone would feel – is we’re watching a human being die. That could be any one of us and it should not have happened. And here we’ve seen an actual trial with an actual result that showed objectivity, that showed impartiality, that showed justice. And that is the beginning of a better future.
Thank you, everyone.