Day two of CNN’s second presidential Democratic debate had an intense start as protesters interrupted both New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker’s opening statements, chanting “Fire Pantaleo” in Detroit’s Fox Theatre, Wednesday night.
The protesters were calling for New York Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo to be fired for killing 43-year-old Eric Garner with an illegal chokehold in 2014. Garner told his assailants “I can’t breathe” 11 times before his untimely death. The phrase became a national outcry against police brutality.
The protesters first interrupted Booker during his opening statement. Booker paused his statement until the protesters were quiet. The chants were ultimately targeting de Blasio, yet some Twitter users criticized Booker for not using the opportunity to address the issue and thank the protesters for bringing it to the debate’s attention.
“How powerful would it have been if @CoryBooker went off book, thanked the protestors for raising the issue, and calling on @NYCMayor to explain his refusal to get justice for #EricGarner?” said Twitter user @EgSophie.
The protesters were eventually escorted out of the theatre for the interruptions, but their chants put a lot of pressure on de Blasio and his rivals to continue the conversation.
Two weeks ago, on the day before the five year anniversary of Garner’s death, the Department of Justice announced that there was not enough evidence to file federal charges against Officer Pantaleo. The decision was made right before the statute of limitations expired on the case.
During Wednesday night’s debate, candidates Julián Castro and Kirsten Gillibrand criticized de Blasio on the matter and pushed him to comment on why Pantaleo is still employed by the city’s police department.
“He was killing Eric Garner and he has not been brought to justice,” former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro said during the debate. “That police officer should be off the streets.”
de Blasio quickly passed the blame to the Justice Department, explaining that his hands were tied while the federal officers pursued the case.
“I know the Garner family, they’ve gone through extraordinary pain,” de Blasio said. “They are waiting for justice and they’re going to get justice. They’re going to finally get justice,” de Blasio said on Wednesday nights debate stage.
The New York Mayor told the audience that the Garner family could anticipate some sort of justice in 30 days.
“There will never be another tragedy, there will never be another Eric Garner,” he said.
On July 16, the day the decision to drop the case was made, Garner’s daughter Emerald Snipes protested the Department of Justice and the city on the steps of New York City’s courthouse demanding justice.
“I’m very angry. I stand here in the spirit of my sister, who fought for justice until her dying day for my father. Standing outside protesting,” she said. “Don’t apologize to me, fire the officer.”
Although de Blasio is currently trying to put out the fire that has been lit underneath his campaign, firing Pantaleo is not within his jurisdiction as mayor. According to Buzzfeed News, only the New York police commissioner has the authority to fire the officer.