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Audience at Democratic presidential debate interrupts with a message: ‘fire Pantaleo’

Posted: 8:29 PM, Jul 31, 2019
Updated: 2019-08-01 10:10:33-04

Activists who want justice for Eric Garner five years after he died during a confrontation with the NYPD took the fight to the Democratic presidential debate.

"Fire Pantaleo," people cheered from the audience as, first Mayor Bill de Blasio and then Sen. Cory Booker, spoke.

Officer Daniel Pantaleo is accused of using a fatal chokehold on Garner. He's still employed by the NYPD.

De Blasio has not said whether he believes Pantaleo should lose his job, though he's said he felt "it was an injustice of the highest order," that the U.S. Justice Department decided not to pursue federal charges against Officer Pantaleo

"I'm not going to venture personal opinions," de Blasio said earlier in July. "When you're the steward of the entire city this is not about personal opinions."

During the debate, he did promise Garner's family would get justice within the next 30 days. He offered no details on what that meant.

Thursday morning, Police Commissioner James O'Neill talked to AM970 about his impending judgement: "Waiting on the Deputy Commissioner of Trials to make her decision, then it goes back to CCRB and Officer Pantaleo's attorney. Then it comes back to me and I'll make my final decision. I'm anticipating that will come shortly, in the next week or two and then we'll move forward."

During the debate Wednesday night, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said Pantaleo should be fired.

"If I was the mayor, I'd fire him," she said.

Booker, as a Senator from New Jersey, would have no role in determining Pantaleo's employment. It's not clear why audience members interrupted his opening remarks.

"To the folks who were standing up to Mayor de Blasio a few minutes ago—good for you," he tweeted. "That's how change is made."

De Blasio also addressed the protestors on Twitter.

"I heard you. I saw you. I thank you," he tweeted. "This is what democracy looks like and no one said it was pretty."

Video of the chokehold death galvanized the nation.

Garner is heard on bystander video crying out "I can't breathe" at least 11 times before he falls unconscious. He later died.

Garner's mother has said she hopes NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill will “do the right thing” and fire Pantaleo.

A New York state grand jury had also refused to indict the officer on criminal charges.