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New York City Reaches $5.9 Million Settlement With Eric Garner Family


Almost a year after Eric Garner died after being put in a chokehold by a police officer in New York, his family has reached a settlement with the city. New York has agreed to pay nearly $6 million to head off a civil lawsuit. No criminal charges have been brought in the case, but as NPR's Joel Rose reports, Eric Garner's family is still pushing to change that.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Garner's arrest in Staten Island was captured on cell phone video. The video quickly went viral, and within days, Garner's final words, I can't breathe, became a rallying cry across the country.


ERIC GARNER: I can't breathe. I can breathe. I can't breathe. I can breathe.

ROSE: The video shows Garner arguing with several police officers. Then a white officer puts his arm around Garner's neck in a chokehold and pulls him to the ground. Garner, who was black and unarmed, died a few hours later. This week, the Garner family including his widow, Esaw Garner, reached a settlement with the city of New York for $5.9 million dollars.


ESAW GARNER: They treated my husband like an animal, and I think that they give animals more respect than they give humans.

ROSE: Garner was arrested for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. His death was ruled a homicide, though none of the police or the ambulance crew involved have been charged with a crime. Gwen Carr is Garner's mother. At a press conference today, she said the settlement is no reason to celebrate.


GWEN CARR: People - we're walking up and down the street - they're saying, congratulations.

Don't congratulate us. This is not a victory. The victory will come when we get justice. Then we want to have a victory party.

ROSE: The Garner family has been pushing the Department of Justice to pursue civil rights charges against the officers involved in Garner's arrest. His daughter, Emerald Garner, repeated that demand today.


EMERALD GARNER: If you do a crime, you do the time. That's how it goes. And it's no excuse. So Department of Justice, we trust that you're going to do the right thing.

ROSE: For many, the phrase I can't breathe came to symbolize the tense relationships between police and communities of color across the country. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer acknowledged that context in announcing the settlement. Stringer also says the city will save money by avoiding a lengthy trial.


SCOTT STRINGER: Well, I hope it gives closure for the Garner family. I think it's important that they have a sense of financial security. I think for the city, we have a lot of work to do to bring police and community together.

ROSE: As comptroller, Stringer has the final say on settlements in cases like this one, and he's been aggressive about settling them early. That does not sit well with some in the NYPD.

ED MULLINS: I think it's total lunacy.

ROSE: Ed Mullins is president of the NYPD's Sergeants Benevolent Association. He argues the settlement is too generous considering that Garner's poor health may have contributed to his death. And Mullins is concerned it will send the wrong message about resisting arrest.

MULLINS: Criminals that see this settlement know that altercations with the NYPD are OK - that you can get something in an altercation, resisting arrest can lead to a payout.

ROSE: But with the anniversary of Eric Garner's death this Friday, city officials seem to have little appetite for a drawn-out fight. The Garner family will mark the occasion with a rally on Saturday outside the federal prosecutor's office in Brooklyn to call once again for civil rights charges. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joel Rose
Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.