In a December 4 statement, more than a dozen major groups from New York’s LGBT advocacy community came together to voice their “outrage over the lack of indictment in the Eric Garner case.”
A day before, a Staten Island grand jury declined to issue an indictment in a wide array of potential charges against police officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose chokehold takedown of Garner on July 17 was captured on video. During the encounter, in which Pantaleo and other NYPD officers attempted to arrest Garner for selling loose cigarettes on the street, on 11 occasions Garner said, “I can’t breathe,” as his head and body were forcefully held against the ground until he died.
“We stand in solidarity with Communities United for Police Reform, people of color, and LGBTQ people of color throughout New York City in condemning NYPD practices that disproportionately affect communities of color, and that led directly to the tragic, premature, and ultimately preventable death of Eric Garner,” the statement from the LGBT groups read.
The letter’s signers included the Empire State Pride Agenda, Lambda Legal, the New York City Anti-Violence Project, the LGBT Community Center and the Brooklyn Community Pride Center, the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, Immigration Equality, the Family Equality Council, SAGE (Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders), the GRIOT Circle: a gathering of elders, and several organizations advocating on behalf of LGBT young people, including FIERCE, the Hetrick-Martin Institute, and Streetwise and Safe.
Linking the lack of an indictment in Staten Island to last week’s decision by a Missouri grand jury not to indict a police officer in the August 9 shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, the groups wrote, “law enforcement officials are not held accountable when they kill Black people in this country. Police violence is an LGBTQ issue. We know that far too many LGBTQ people, and particularly Black LGBTQ people, are regularly profiled, harassed, and subject to police violence."
The groups also pointed to a 2010 case in Newark, where a police officer shot and killed DeFarra Gaymon, an unarmed Black man, after encountering him in a gay cruising area. The officer claimed self-defense and also escaped prosecution.
The letter cited the most recent report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs that showed that, nationwide, transgender people of color face six times greater risk of violence at the hands of police than the average American.
According to the New York City Anti-Violence Project, for the second year in a row it “saw high rates of police misconduct being reported by our clients." In each year, more than 65 respondents told the AVP they had encountered police misconduct while reporting crimes committed against them.
The LGBT groups endorsed the proposed city Right To Know Act that would require NYPD officers to inform anyone they stop that under normal circumstances –– that is, without a specific indication of criminal behavior –– they can only be searched with their consent. The measure was recently introduced by Councilmembers Ritchie Torres, an out gay representative from the Bronx, and Brooklyn’s Antonio Reynoso.
The letter added, “We call for NYPD reforms that prevent the police from policing their own actions, as clearly that has not worked in Ferguson, in New York City, or countless other cities and towns throughout the country.”
Separately, Lower East Side City Councilmember Rosie Mendez offered a stark assessment of the factors behind the Garner death, saying, “In New York City we have seen far too many lives taken by an act of hyper-aggressive policing that includes excessive and deadly force... The system that was created to 'protect' us is flawed and continues to fail us. At the root of this failure is institutionalized racism and we continue to lose lives and do not address this root cause."
In a release about Garner's death and the lack of an indictment, Jimmy Van Bramer the out gay Council majority leader from Sunnyside, Queens, said, "Neither the activity he was engaged in nor his response to the police officers who apprehended him warranted the force that was applied –– force that ultimately resulted in his death... We have a major problem in our city and country when people of color, black men in particular, believe that the justice system consistently fails them. I have great respect for police officers and the very difficult work they are charged with, but today’s announcement does not represent equal justice for all under the law.
The December 4 letter came as protesters launched a second night of demonstrations across the city, which included a huge rally in Foley Square outside Lower Manhattan’s courthouses, as well as actions that blocked portions of the Brooklyn Bridge, the West Side Highway, and Times Square.
At an action organized by Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Randi Weingarten, the out lesbian president of the American Federation of Teachers, was arrested for civil disobedience. The day before, Weingarten, in a statement on behalf of the AFT, said, "Today, we share in the disappointment of many who question the outcome of the grand jury's deliberations in this case."