Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
No Indictment in NYPD Choke Hold Death; No Indictment in NYPD Choke Hold Death; New York Mayor: 'It's a Very Painful Day';
Aired December 3, 2014 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. No charges. A New York grand jury decides not to indict a white police officer in the death of an unarmed black man, who died after being put in an illegal choke hold. What evidence swayed the jury?
Bracing for protests. The case sparked demonstrations like this one in August. Now officials are on alert as outrage over the grand jury decision appears to be growing. Will demonstrations remain peaceful?
Echoes of Ferguson. Eerie similarities between the New York case and the case of Michael Brown. I'll talk about it with the Brown family lawyer, Benjamin Crump. What's his reaction to this latest police killing controversy?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. Echoes of Ferguson right now in New York City, where a grand jury has just decided not to charge a white police officer in the death of an unarmed black man.
Eric Garner died in July after the police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, put him in a choke hold, a move prohibited by the NYPD. We're standing by to hear from the mayor of New York City, Bill De Blasio. He's getting ready to speak.
Meantime, President Obama spoke about it just a few moments ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am absolutely committed as president of the United States to making sure that we have a country in which everybody believes in the core principle that we are equal under the law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: CNN is covering all angles of the breaking news this hour with our correspondents, our guests, including the attorney for the family of Michael Brown, Benjamin Crump. He's here with me in THE SITUATION ROOM.
But let's begin with CNN's Joe Johns. He's in New York. Joe, what's the reaction where you are? You're in Staten Island, right?
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. This is the location where that fatal altercation occurred back in July between Eric Garner and Daniel Pantaleo, where Eric Garner ended up being killed.
As you can see, there is a small crowd out here for the most part. If you'll take a look down the street just a bit, you'll see media intermixed with the people standing on the street. We did see one demonstration coming through here. Just a few people, probably a dozen carrying signs, chanting, "No justice, no peace." All of this peaceful, at least so far, after that grand jury decision.
JOHNS (voice-over): Tonight, New York City is bracing for protests after a grand jury decided not to indict police officer Daniel Pantaleo over his actions in July, videotaped by a bystander.
ERIC GARNER, KILLED BY POLICE: Don't touch me. Don't touch me. (EXPLETIVE DELETED)
JOHNS: Cries from Eric Garner, a 350-pound black man and father of six, who was taken down by police, suspected of selling cigarettes, tax-free. Pantaleo put Garner in a choke hold, a move prohibited by the NYPD.
GARNER: I can't breathe! I can't breathe!
JOHNS: Moments later, Garner, who suffered from asthma, lies limp on the pavement. He's taken away on a stretcher and later declared dead at a nearby hospital. The New York City medical examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide. The cause of death was, quote, "compression of neck, (choke hold), compression of check and prone positioning during physical restraint by police."
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: This was an arrest for an extremely minor crime, and it certainly seems to many people that the police should pay a price for that kind of arrest ending in a death.
JOHNS: Following the grand jury decision, Officer Pantaleo released a statement, extending his condolences to the Garner family. Quote, "It is never my intention to harm anyone, and I feel very bad about the death of Mr. Garner."
It's a case that's drawing parallels to Ferguson, Missouri, where fiery protests erupted after a grand jury did not indict a white police officer, Darren Wilson, after he shot and killed the black unarmed teenager, Michael Brown. Soon after his death, protesters in New York City called for justice for Eric Garner.
Trying to preempt a Ferguson repeat, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio says violence and property disruption will not be tolerated.
MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO, NEW YORK CITY: People have a right to protest peacefully. And we will respect that right. But if we think public safety is compromised, the police will act very assertively to address that problem.
JOHNS: Now, back live. After that decision was reached -- back live, Wolf. After that decision was reached, the D.A. released a statement saying that he has applied for a court order, seeking authorization to further release public information about what happened in the grand jury. He said until that time, he is bound by the law not to reveal anything else. A stark contrast to all the information that was released after the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Already a tense moment there in New York City. Joe Johns, thanks very much.
Once again, we're standing by. We'll hear from the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, any moment now. You can see the cameras are all set. He's going to walk up to that microphone as soon as he starts speaking about this case. We'll have live coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
In the meantime, let's bring in CNN's justice reporter, Evan Perez.
Evan, the Justice Department here in Washington is also looking into this specific case. Is that right?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. They've already been doing an investigation quietly behind the scenes for some time now, for some months now. We expect that Attorney General Eric Holder will make a formal announcement of this investigation, probably later this evening.
You heard the president mention that he had talked to the attorney general about this, and we know that the family had met with the -- Loretta Lynch, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, who is also the nominee to succeed Eric Holder. And she's -- her office is the one that's been doing this investigation, Wolf.
BLITZER: So, basically, what are they looking at? We know what the federal government, the Justice Department, is looking at in Ferguson. Civil rights violations, the history of the Ferguson Police Department. What are they going to try to look at in New York City?
PEREZ: Well, you know, right now, I think it begins with this case, and whether or not the civil rights of Eric Garner were -- were violated by this incident. And so that's where it begins, Wolf. We don't know where they will take this all. We don't know whether there was any other incidents that they'll want to take a look at. All of that is part of this investigation.
BLITZER: All right. Evan Perez, thanks very much.
Once again, we'll go to the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, as soon as he starts speaking in New York.
In the meantime, let's discuss what's going on. Benjamin Crump, the attorney for Michael Brown's family, is here. He also represented, as a lot of our viewers will remember, the family of Trayvon Martin down in Florida.
Mr. Crump, thanks once again for joining us. Were you expecting an indictment out of this grand jury here in New York, Ben?
BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY: I was, Wolf. I was expecting it because of the video.
I talked to attorney Jonathan Moore, the family's lawyer, who we represented Akai Gurley, another unarmed African-American killed in New York. And we were saying the video is there. It's going to be difficult for them not to indict him. But we know the system normally don't indict police officers for killing people of color.
And we were troubled by the fact that they gave immunity to all the other officers except the officer who had the choke hold, and that was, in our minds saying, this doesn't seem right, because the coroner said the cause of death was the choke hold, compression to the back, and other things. And the officer only had the throat, that they were looking to indict. The other ones also should have been looked at, as well. And so we were worried, but we thought, with this video, it was going to happen.
On my social media account, Wolf, everybody have been saying, "You see, Attorney Crump, you keep pushing for body cameras. That won't make a difference. We got all the video here. They just don't care about our lives," and I reject that. I do think that body cameras work. The videos work. It's not a problem with the videos. It's a problem with the system. And until we change this system, we're going to keep getting the same results, and it is so unfair.
BLITZER: Because the grand jury that was reviewing this over these past several months, what, about 24 members, and almost half of them were described as, more than half were white, but the other, more than -- almost half were nonwhite. So it was a mixed grand jury that considered all the evidence that was presented by the attorney, by the prosecutor.
CRUMP: Well, and Attorney Moore had been doing this 37 years. I've been doing it 20 years, and what we say is what everybody knows. The grand jury would do whatever the prosecutor wants them to do, when you really think about it. If he presents the evidence in such a way to get an indictment, he would get an indictment.
If he doesn't want an indictment and he presented it in such a way where he doesn't get an indictment, they're going to do what he does. They can indict a ham sandwich if they want to. And if they don't want to get an indictment, it's not going to happen.
BLITZER: This prosecutor does have a history of going after police officers who went beyond the law.
CRUMP: Well, the video is there, and it's very telling that people are very troubled by it. I mean, people were upset in Ferguson, and they didn't have a video. We got a video. And I think people are going to say, the system is just broke, and we have to fix it, because it's not equal. The American justice system is built on trial by jury. And for that
reason, we can never bring the police officers to trial. We don't have a chance.
BLITZER: It was 14 white jurors on the grand jury, nine non-white. And they didn't break down the nine non-white. But the non -- 9 non- white, 14 grand jurors that came up this decision not to indict.
The New York City Patrolman's Benevolent Association issued a statement. I'll put it up on the screen. "It is clear that the officer's intention was to do nothing more than take Mr. Garner into custody as instructed and that he used the takedown technique that he learned in the academy when Mr. Garner refused. No police officer starts a shift intending to take another human being's life." Your reaction?
CRUMP: Well, when you look at this video, he was not being aggressive; he wasn't posing a threat to them. And so people look at this video, and whatever they say, whatever they do to try to spin it, people are looking with their own eyes and saying what's his crime -- alleged crime again? This is not right. And so we have to do something about this.
And that's why all these families from Ferguson, the Brown family, the family from Cleveland, as well as the Garner family on December 13, Reverend Sharpton, the National Bar Association, and other civil rights groups are coming here to D.C. to say, we've got to change this system, because it's broken, and if we keep doing things over and over again and expecting different results, that's the definition for insanity.
BLITZER: What they also argue is that the police officer, that he actually resisted when the police officers came to him. And they also argue that he had a history. The autopsy showed he had asthma. He was overweight, and all of that contributed to the tragic death.
CRUMP: Wolf, everybody gets a right to watch the video with their own eyes. What scenario can we present where a police officer will be indicted for killing a person of color?
BLITZER: It has happened. There have been indictments of police officers.
CRUMP: It is so extremely rare.
BLITZER: But I agree, it is very hard to indict a police officer in the line of duty, as we've saw in Ferguson and now we see in New York City. It's hard for the grand jury, even if it is a mixed race grand jury, if the -- and as you point out, if the prosecuting attorney is sort of ambivalent about it.
CRUMP: And Wolf, what we have is this thing, we've set up that says, every time a police is charged, they've got to go to a grand jury. Why is that? Why can't they be treated equally like the citizens? Due process is just this notion that everybody is supposed to be equal. The little black boy lying dead on the ground and the police officer. And so why do we change the rules when it's our children lying dead on the ground?
We have to say to people, if we want them to have faith in the system, it's going to be based on the Constitution, it's going to be transparent, and you get to see it all play out, so you'll see it's fair. When you have these secret grand jury proceedings, it builds the mistrust. And as President Obama just said, we've got to do less talking and more acting to say we've got to do things differently.
BLITZER: We'll hear what the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, has to say in a few moments, as well, as soon as he comes to the microphone.
On the Ferguson case, Louis Head, the stepfather of Michael Brown, he has now done what a lot of people wanted him to do for days, to apologize, to express remorse over the ugly words that he said that night that the grand jury decision came down not to indict the police officer in Ferguson. I know you've been involved in that. What took him so long to come out with that statement?
CRUMP: Well, I don't represent Louis Head. I think when you think about what they just went through the last few months, that was raw emotion that was done right there, when they heard the decision of the grand jury.
Nobody's condoning violence in any way, manner, or form, and nobody's saying that was appropriate, what he said. But we also don't condone the violent act of the police officers that shot his stepson.
And so I think you see frustration boiling over. And I think you're going to see frustration here in New York. We've got to tell people they can trust the system. If not, you're going to see people get emotionally overwhelmed.
BLITZER: I know you've got to run, so I'm going to just ask you one more question. I'm told you actually indicated to me there's going to be a march here in Washington, D.C., that some of these families are now organizing. Tell us about that.
CRUMP: Yes. On December 13, Reverend Sharpton and other civil rights leaders are going to have the family of Michael Brown, as well as the Amir family from Cleveland, the 12-year-old young man who was shot, and the Garner family and the Gurley family, the young man who they admitted was -- did nothing wrong and they shot him in the stairway in New York City, all come and lead a march here in Washington, D.C., saying to our great institution of justice, we have to change the system. It got to be fair for everybody, because many, many people in the minority community does not believe that it's fair.
BLITZER: Benjamin Crump, thanks very much for joining us.
CRUMP: Thank you for having me.
BLITZER: We'll see you when you're back here in Washington. Will you be here for that march?
CRUMP: I will be, yes. Saturday, December 13, I'm be leading the lawyers with the National Bar Association.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much for joining us.
We'll take a quick break. We'll resume our special coverage of the breaking news. We're standing by for the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio. He's going to speak out on this decision by the grand jury in Staten Island, New York, not to indict the police officer in connection with the choking death of that man, Eric Garner.
Stay with us. We're also going to hear from the president of the United States.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. A New York grand jury has decided not to charge a white police officer in the death of an unarmed black man. Right now, we're standing by to hear from the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio. He's supposed to come to the microphone literally any moment to react to this decision by the grand jury in New York. Lots of tension in New York right now as a result of this decision.
Our national correspondent, Deborah Feyerick, is joining us. She's got new information.
What are you learning, Deb?
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, tonight is the big tree lighting at Rockefeller Center. The NYPD has made it very clear that they're not going to tolerate a repeat of what happened in Ferguson. That if there are demonstrators, they will be orderly. But they're not going to condone or allow any of the events that happened in Ferguson to happen in New York City.
What they have done is they have taken police officers who work the day shift, they're extending those shifts by about four or five hours. They're going to station those officers at Rockefeller Center as well as Times Square at 42nd Street, Union Square at 14th Street, as well as near the Brooklyn Bridge. So if the protesters want to cross over the bridge, they can do that.
What you're doing, you're seeing a live picture right now of Times Square, relatively quiet right now. But again, the news is just filtering out. It's unclear how the events will play out or how many people will come out to protest on this sort of rainy New York evening.
But, again, the NYPD saying that they've got the manpower. They're going to make sure that at the tree lighting, they've got those officers in place to protect both the protesters who are coming to demonstrate, the crowds who are there to watch the tree lighting, and they're going to make sure that there's no interruption of that tree lighting ceremony this evening. So a very heavy police presence here in New York City, Wolf.
BLITZER: And as you say, they're keeping the police beyond their regular -- their regular shifts, if you will, to make sure they have enough personnel on the ground. Is that right?
FEYERICK: Well, that's exactly right. So what they're doing, effectively, is they're doubling the strength of their officers in certain key locations to make sure things don't get out of hand.
You know, the NYPD is very adept at doing crowd control. They do it -- they just did it at the Thanksgiving Day parade. They do it every New Year's Eve, where they're able to pen people in. And so they're accustomed to making sure that demonstrators are able to protest without anything sort of going sideways.
But they want to especially make sure that that's the case tonight, because you do have so many people from out of town here in New York City. Hotel rooms are completely packed, completely sold out. And so it's very -- they just want to make sure that they keep the peace and allow people who are upset at the non-indictment to come out and voice their opinions.
BLITZER: Deborah Feyerick in New York, thanks very much.
As we await the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, let's bring in our panel. Our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, is joining us, along with our legal analyst, Sunny Hostin; our law enforcement analyst and former FBI director, Tom Fuentes; and our CNN anchor, Don Lemon.
Jeffrey, this incident, as we've been pointing out and as we've all seen by now, caught on videotape. Yet the police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, was not indicted. None of us was in that grand jury room, where those 24 jurors were deliberating for these past several weeks, but explain why, potentially, they decided he didn't commit a crime.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the best I can determine is they thought that this was a legitimate arrest, that even though this was a very minor crime, selling cigarettes without paying taxes on it, they thought he was subject to arrest. He resisted, and the cops took necessary action.
His death, presumably, the jury found, was due to the fact that he had these pre-existing medical conditions. He was overweight. He had asthma, and that led to his death rather than unlawful action by the police.
BLITZER: Tom, explain the use of choke holds. Are they legal, illegal? I know that the New York City Police Department recommends they not be used at all. But go ahead, what do we know about a choke hold to try to subdue a suspect?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT: First of all, Wolf, it's actually a misnomer and not supposed to be a choke hold. It's supposed to be a sleeper hold. The forearm and the bicep of the officer is supposed to cut off the blood flow to the brain so the subject faints and then let go and cuff him without permanent injury.
Police departments got away from it because of what happens here. And you see in the video, the officer's forearm is not on the side of the neck, cutting off blood flow, it's cutting off air on the front. It is choking him. So because of that, most police departments that have taught that -- and I was taught this hold years ago, as a sleeper hold, not to choke somebody -- but because there were so many accidents that people accidentally died, they didn't -- they've gone to not using it. It's not technically illegal, but it is against the rules of NYPD to use it.
BLITZER: Sunny, when you heard the decision, what immediately went through your mind?
HOSTIN: Ferguson. I mean, I was stunned, quite frankly. As a native New Yorker, I really thought that there would be an indictment, that this wouldn't happen here.
And I looked at the facts, and I wrote them down. Because the facts, as we know them, and perhaps the grand jury knew something else, you have Eric Garner unarmed, choked, using a choke hold, which is a banned procedure. You have Eric Garner saying 11 times, "I can't breathe." You have a medical examiner who ruled it a homicide by choke hold. It's all on video. We see him die. And there's no indictment. I mean...
BLITZER: So Sunny, how do you explain that?
HOSTIN: I can't explain it. I can't explain it. You know, it seems to me that this screams for a DOJ investigation. It screams for a review of the grand jury process.
Because it seems to me that prosecutors that work day in and day out, with officers shouldn't be tasked with presenting an indictment or, if, you know, evidence for indictment in front of a grand jury. I don't think that this process works. You have to have a special prosecutor, when you have police-involved shootings or police-involved deaths.
It just -- when you listen to those facts, as I draw them out, this does not make sense to suggest that probable cause doesn't exist, that this video doesn't show, Wolf, excessive force, an overreaction by the police department for a minor infraction, is absurd. It's ludicrous. Everyone should be concerned about this, outraged, sickened. Just sickened.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: They are.
BLITZER: Well, let me bring Don Lemon into this conversation. So far, Don, and it's been a few hours, the reaction on the streets of Staten Island and Manhattan seems to be pretty calm.
LEMON: Yes. Wolf, I worked this morning. I did "NEW DAY," went home and took a nap and I woke up to this news. And as I left the building, the doorman looked at me, gave me that knowing look, and "Here we go again." As I walked, people on the street, same thing, "Here we go again." People on the subway, "Here we go again."
And if you -- here's what I want people to do, and I know it's hard to do. Take the issue of race out of this. And put Eric Garner of any ethnic persuasion on that ground. This is a case of excessive force. If you can't see that this went from zero to 100 in 1.5 seconds or in a short amount of time, for someone who was selling loose cigarettes -- By the way, I can walk out of here, go to the bodega down the street and buy loose cigarettes -- then you're not a human being if you can't see this. This is excessive force.
This is about -- this bolsters the hands up pose that everyone has been doing around the country, that the Rams have been doing, that goes beyond Ferguson. Everyone says, "Oh, it's a false narrative about Ferguson." If you want to feel that way, fine. That's your business. But this bolsters that argument there, that there is an issue when it comes to excessive force, with police officers that we need to deal with, regardless of race. And it happens that African- American men are usually on the receiving end of it.
BLITZER: Jeffrey, the New York district attorney isn't coming to the microphones like the St. Louis prosecuting attorney, Robert McCulloch did, but he did put out a statement. In part, let me read it to you: "I applied for a court order seeking authorization to publicly release specific information in connection with this grand jury investigation. That application is under consideration by the court, and I am therefore constrained by New York law to reveal nothing further regarding these proceedings." So I take it New York law is a lot different than Missouri law when it
comes to releasing this kind of information that was presented before a grand jury.
TOOBIN: It is very different law. And it's worth pointing out that Dan Donovan is not the district attorney for all of New York. He is only the district attorney for Staten Island. And for people who are not from New York, they may not be familiar with the politics of the city.
Staten Island is by far the smallest and the most conservative of the boroughs. As you noted earlier, the grand jury in this case was a diverse group. But by the standards of New York City, Staten Island is clearly the most pro-cop area. In fact, lots of cops, lots of police officers, live in Staten Island. And I think the fact that this was a Staten Island grand jury and an elected Staten Island district attorney may tell part of the story about why there was no indictment.
BLITZER: All right. We're going to take a quick break. We're awaiting the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio. He's going to be coming to the microphone, we're told, any minute now. The panel will stick around. Much more of our coverage right after this.
BLITZER: Let's go to the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
BILL DE BLASIO, MAYOR OF NEW YORK: ... address some of the divisions that afflict us, in particular, our brothers and sisters who are members of the clergy, having devoted themselves to comforting and supporting people in all sorts of situations. Yet tonight, there was a particular sense of challenge and of pain.
I want to thank everyone who gathered together in common purpose. I want to thank Bishop Brown for hosting us, for his leadership. I want to thank speaker Melissa Mark Verito (ph) and public advocate Tish James (ph). I want to thank borough president Jimmy Oddo. I want to offer a special thank you to council member Debbie Rhodes (ph), who has been in the center of so much of what's happened in these past months, to help people understand what we had to do together to move forward, but also to listen and absorb the pain and frustration so many people have faced. I know it has not been easy, council member, but I want to thank you for your profound leadership.
And to so many of the clergy that you've worked, who have been such important partners in reminding people we have to find a way forward. And we have to find a way forward together by definition.
It's a very emotional day for our city. It's a very painful day for so many New Yorkers. That is the core reality. So many people in this city are feeling pain right now. And we're grieving again over the loss of Eric Garner, who was a father, a husband, a son, a good man, a man who should be with us and isn't. That pain, that simple fact is felt again so sharply today.
I spent some time with Ben Garner, Eric's father, who is in unspeakable pain. And it's a very hard time trying to spend time trying to comfort someone you know is beyond the reach of comfort because of what he's been through. I can only imagine. I couldn't help but immediately think what it would mean to me to lose Dante. Life could never be the same thereafter. And I could feel how it will never be whole again, things will never be whole again for Mr. Garner.
And even in the midst of his pain, one of the things he stopped, said so squarely was there can't be violence. He said, "Eric would not have wanted violence. Violence won't get us anywhere." He was so sharp and clear in his desire, despite his pain, I found it noble. I could only imagine what it took for him to summon that.
No family should have to go through what the Garner family went through. And the tragedy is personal to this family, but it's become something personal to so many of us. It's put in stark perspective the relationship between police and community. And this issue has come to the fore again, and we have to address them; we have to address them with all our might. We can't stop. We have to act with the assumption that it's all of our jobs to never have a tragedy again. That's what we have to fight for. This is profoundly personal for me. I was at the White House the
other day, and the president of the United States turned to me, and he met Dante a few months ago, and he said that Dante reminded him of what he looked like as a teenager. And he said, "I know you see this crisis through a very personal lens."
And I said to him I did. Because Chirlane and I have had to talk to Dante for years about the dangers that he may face. Good young man, law-abiding young man who never would think to do anything wrong, and yet, because of a history that still hangs over us, the dangers he may face, we've had to literally train him, as families have all over this city for decades, in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers, who are there to protect him.
And that painful sense of contradiction that our young people see first, that our police are here to protect us, and we honor that, and at the same time, there's a history we have to overcome because for so many of our young people, there's a fear. And for so many of our families, there's a fear. So I've had to worry over the years. Chirlane has had to worry, was Dante safe each night?
There are so many families in this city who feel that each and every night, is my child safe? And not just from some of the painful realities of crime and violence in some of our neighborhoods, but they're safe from the very people they want to have faith in as their protectors. That's the reality, and it conforms to something bigger that you've heard come out in the protests in Ferguson and all over the country. This is now a national moment of grief, a national moment of pain and searching for a solution.
And you've heard in so many places, people of all backgrounds utter the same basic phrase. They've said, "Black lives matter." And they said it because it had to be said. It's a phrase that should never have to be said. It should be self-evident. But our history, sadly, requires us to say that black lives matter.
Because as I said the other day, we're not just dealing with a problem in 2014, we're not dealing with years of racism leading up to it or decades of racism, we are dealing with centuries of racism that have brought us to this day. That is how profound the crisis is. And that is how fundamental the task at hand is, to turn from that history and to make a change that is profound and lasting.
In the here and now, so many New Yorkers will ask the question, what will happen next? They'll ask, will there be a full airing of these facts? Will there be some investigation that means something to them? And I think the truth is important here.
One chapter has closed with the decision of this grand jury. There are more chapters ahead. The police department will initiate now its own investigation and make its own decisions about the administrative actions it can take.
The federal government is clearly engaged and poised to act. Just before the meeting began, the leaders here on Staten Island, I received a phone call from United States Attorney General Eric Holder and from U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch. They made clear that the investigation initiated by the U.S. attorney would now move forward, that it would be done expeditiously, and it would be done with a clear sense of independence and that it would be a thorough investigation. It was a palpable sense of resolve, the federal government will exercise its responsibilities here and do a full and thorough investigation and draw conclusions accordingly.
We've experienced one challenge after another in these last weeks. The events of Ferguson may have most sharply framed this discussion nationally. For all of us here, what's happening in our own community is what we feel most deeply. It was hard for any one of us, as a human being, and particularly any of us who, as a parent, to not be deeply pained by the death of Tamir Rice in Cleveland, 12-year-old boy. Something that's very, very hard to fathom. And all of these pains add up and demand of us action.
It is powerful, even in the midst of this pain, that our president is acting. It is powerful that our president is focused on changing our approach to policing. And focused on community policing, focused on the value of body cameras as a new tool for accountability and transparency.
It's powerful that our attorney general is focused. These things will matter. These things will lead to change here in this city. Change is happening, even in this moment, people are feeling pain and frustration and confusion. Change is happening right now. And I said in the meeting, change is happening because the people willed it to happen.
We're leaders. We all strive to help our people, but the people willed this change to happen. The people believed the broken policy of "stop and frisk" had to end, and it has ended. The people believed that there were too many young people of color arrested and saddled with a record for the rest of their lives simply for a small amount of marijuana, and that policy has been changed. The people demanded something different. It's my responsibility and the responsibility of everyone standing here with me to achieve that on behalf of the people.
When I named Commissioner Bratton as our police commissioner, I know him to be -- I knew at the time and I've seen it even more since -- I knew him to be one of the greatest reformers and change agents in policing in the history of this country. I have seen that ability and those values play out each and every day. I saw it today at the New York City Police Department Academy, where not only did we talk about what body cameras will mean in terms of changing a relationship between a police community. We talked about the retraining of the entire police force, something that has never been done in this city before.
We talked about helping our officers to understand different ways to diffuse confrontations. We talked about bringing our officers closer to the community, from the point of their training; from the first moments of their experience as law enforcement officers, emphasizing the partnership they need with the community.
And I remind you, my faith in Commissioner Bratton is based upon the actions he has taken over decades. It's also based on the clarity of his message to all of us. He gathered his top commanders a few weeks ago. It was well-reported. He said very publicly, the department will act aggressively to ensure that any officer who's not meant to be in this work no longer is. He talked about those who don't live up to the values of the uniform, who are, quote/unquote, "brutal," who are corrupt, who are racist, who are incompetent. This was our police commissioner making sure his standards, that people who, sadly, fit those descriptions would not be members of the NYPD.
These changes will matter. They will affect millions of people. They will take time, but that is not in any way an excuse or a willingness on our part to do anything but the fastest change we can. It's an honest leveling with our people that not every change can happen overnight. But they're happening resolutely and forcefully. More are happening every day. Each change builds upon the next. There is a momentum for change that will be felt in every neighborhood in this city.
And again, it doesn't come first and foremost from city hall or from One Police Plaza. It comes from the people of the city who have demanded it. This change is about the values of our people, the will of our people, the goodness of our people. That's where change comes from. And everyone has an opportunity to play a role in that change, by continuing to work for it. And that is across every community.
I have to emphasize, and we've seen this all over the country, but I know it's true here, and I have experienced it from last year that I think is evidence. This is not just a demand coming from the African- American community. It's not just a demand coming from the Latino community; it's coming from every community. It's coming from people all of faiths, who want a city of fairness; who want violence to end; who want no family to go through the tragedy the Garners did.
So people will express themselves now, as they should in a democracy. I ask everyone to listen to what Ben Garner said and what Eric Garner's son said as well. If you really want to dignify the life of Eric Garner, you will do so through peaceful protests. You will work relentlessly for change. You will not sully his name with violence or vandalism. That doesn't bring us closer to a better community.
The only thing that's ever worked is peaceful protests, nonviolence social activism. It's the only thing that has ever worked. And the Garner family has made that abundantly clear. Michael Brown's family made that abundantly clear. People should listen to those we say we stand in solidarity with, fulfill their wishes, and work for change the right way.
I'll just finish with a couple of more points and then I want to say something in Spanish before I depart.
We -- so many of us, are steeped in the teachings of Dr. King and many great leaders, but perhaps no one more definitional than the work of social change and the work of justice in Dr. King. And he said something so fundamental that should remind us how we need to handle this moment. He said, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
This is a problem for all New Yorkers. This is a problem for all Americans. It has to be treated as such. Anyone who says to you this is a problem only felt by people of color or only pertinent to young people misses what's going on here. It's all our problem. And anyone who believes in the values of this country should feel a call to action right now.
Anyone who cares about justice, that American value of justice, should understand, it is a moment a change must happen. Change that's as good as the people that we represent.
I just want to say in Spanish --
(SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. So there you hear the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, very emotionally, very passionately, speaking out about what's going on right now. Strong words indeed from the mayor of New York. He's very, very upset about what's going on.
On the other side of the screen, we're also seeing some demonstrations now that have developed in Times Square. A lot of people upset about this decision in New York not to go ahead and indict the police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, in the choking death of the suspect in this particular case, Eric Garner.
Let's get some reaction to what we just heard from the mayor of New York.
Jeffrey Toobin, what'd you think?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I just -- for a bit of background for people who aren't from New York, Mayor de Blasio is married to an African-American woman and they have a son, Dante, whom the mayor referred to, who is, to all appearances, an African-American kid. And so this issue has an obvious personal resonance for him and he referred to that several times.
You know, it was obviously a heartfelt, mournful speech, because he did not appear satisfied with this decision. It was also, I thought, a very clear invitation to the United States Department of Justice to do a civil rights case based on these same facts. And I think that is certainly going to be a top of mind issue for the U.S. Attorney's Office, which is currently headed by Loretta Lynch, who's nominated to be the attorney general.
BLITZER: Yes, if she's confirmed, as presumably she will be confirmed by the United States Senate.
Everyone, stand by. Cornell William Brooks is on the phone, he's the president and CEO of the NAACP.
Cornell, what's your reaction to this decision by the grand jury in New York?
CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NAACP: The decision is very saddening. We have the death of another young man at the hands of the police. As we think about Eric Garner and the lack of accountability in that case, Michael Brown and the lack of accountability in that case, even as the NAACP trudges towards Jefferson City on our Journey for Justice, it's just very sad.
But I was heartened by the mayor's comments, the references to his son, Dante, and the references to Ferguson. Both of which put this in a larger context. One, that this problem of unjustified homicides at the hands of the police is part of a larger challenge. That is, what feels like for generations, a pandemic of police misconduct. And then the second part of this is that the mayor put it into context of our children.
Our children irrespective of race, creed, color, ethnicity. These are, in fact, our children. And I think that's important for us to remember and that we simply can't dismiss this as a matter of a grand jury indicting or not indicting without looking at this at a profound, profound legal, moral public policy challenge, the likes of which you simply cannot ignore.
BLITZER: And like Mayor de Blasio, I know you've had that personal conversation with your two sons who I've also met. It's a very important conversation for a lot of young people, obviously especially African-American young men who are about -- want to just go on with what they're doing but they have to be precise, they have to be very, very careful.
Have you had a chance, Cornell, to speak with the family of Eric Garner?
BROOKS: I have not. We've certainly communicated with them throughout our New York NAACP branches. Something with the president -- with that family. But the pain that they're feeling, it really has to be felt by the entire country. When the mayor said he had to have conversations with his son, the same conversation -- with his son, the same conversation I had with my son, I'm reminded it can't be that we have a conversation about children without having training for our law enforcement. There's a moral lack of equivalence there and legal lack of equivalence that is just hard to ignore.
BLITZER: You're a lawyer, you're a graduate of Yale Law School. What do you want the federal government to investigate right now? We heard Eric Holder, the attorney general, he told the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, they are going to investigate, they're going to look at this, they're going to come up with some decisions, in the mayor's words, expeditiously.
What do you -- what is the investigation now? What do you want them to look at?
BROOKS: Well, certainly the Justice Department has to look at the fact that we have the use of a chokehold, which has been banned by the police department for decades. Something we have to look at this death in the context of this civilian being accused, being suspected of selling loose, unpacked cigarettes. And certainly in the context of a massive stop and frisk policy that has been the plague of black and brown communities for years on end.
We will call upon the Justice Department to use the full light of the civil rights division to determine whether or not there's been a violation here. But this is more than just one investigation. This is really a matter of a whole scale reassessment of the way policing is conducted in this country. But first and foremost, we have to seek justice for Eric Garner's family. Because at the end of the day, they've lost a son, they've lost a father, they've lost someone near and dear to them. And in a real sense, the entire country grieves.
BLITZER: We heard the president, he spoke out today. Does he need to do more? What do you want the president to do?
BROOKS: I believe the president is taking some very positive steps in terms of convening very distinguished and prominent members of the public policy community, young people in terms of his task force. The expenditure of funds for body cameras. But we need to be clear, this battle cannot be relegated or delegated, outsourced to Congress. It is a challenge that has to be taken up in state capitals, has to be taken up at the municipal level, has to be taken up by mayors, chiefs of police, as well as Congress persons and the president of the United States.
BLITZER: And very quickly --
BROOKS: We have one out of every four African-American men reporting being mistreated by the police in a given month according to Gallup. This is a profound problem.
BLITZER: Very quickly, what's your message to the people who are taking to the streets even as we speak right now?
BROOKS: What I would say to them is, by all means, take to the streets. By all means, fully -- give full probe to your concern, sadness, outrage, but do it peacefully, do it nonviolently, reflect the highest moral and constitutional values of our country, as we're trying to do on our journey for justice. There's no --
BLITZER: Cornell William Brooks -- yes, I've got to cut you off, but thank you very, very much. Very eloquent comments from the president and CEO of the NAACP. Thanks very much for joining us. Good luck on your march out there in Missouri. We'll stay in close touch.
BROOKS: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Thank you.
We're going to continue watching the situation that's unfolding on the streets of New York. Right now, getting new reaction to the grand jury's decision not to indict a white policeman in a chokehold death of an unarmed black man.