New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks on the second night of the second 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential debate in Detroit, Michigan, July 31, 2019.
Lucas Jackson | Reuters
Protesters calling for the firing of a New York City police officer involved in the 2014 death of Eric Garner interrupted the second Democratic presidential primary debate on Wednesday.
Chants of “Fire Pantaleo” started during New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s opening statement at the Detroit debate. They reference Daniel Pantaleo, the officer involved in Garner’s death on Staten Island that sparked nationwide protests.
Earlier this month, the Justice Department declined to seek charges against Pantaleo. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., had to temporarily pause his opening statement as the chants continued.
In tweets following the chants, de Blasio said he “heard” and “saw” the protesters.
“While I believe that respecting the process is the best way to get justice for Eric Garner’s family, I recognize and identify with the pain people across this country are feeling,” he said.
He continued: “From ending a broken policy of stop-and-frisk to training our officers in implicit bias, we’ve fundamentally changed our city because of Eric Garner — so that a tragedy like this never happens again.”
Later asked about why the city did not fire Pantaleo, de Blasio said the Garner family would get justice within 30 days. It is unclear what specific steps he was referencing.
In a separate tweet Wednesday, Booker acknowledged the protesters.
“To the folks who were standing up to Mayor de Blasio a few minutes ago—good for you. That’s how change is made,” he wrote.
Two of de Blasio’s rivals on the stage Wednesday — Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro — contended Pantaleo should have been fired.
Candidates brought up Garner’s death during a broader discussion about how they would address racial justice as president.
Garner, an asthmatic, repeatedly said “I can’t breathe” as Pantaleo tried to apprehend him. His words captured on video became a rallying cry for Americans protesting police use of force.