Eric Garner, a 43-year-old father of six and two-time grandfather from Staten Island, New York, died of an apparent heart attack Thursday when five New York City police officers attempted to arrest him by placing him in a choke hold.
Garner weighed 350 pounds and suffered from asthma, diabetes, and sleep apnea, among other health woes. Police accused him of selling bootleg cigarettes, a charge he had faced several timed before. But witnesses, and Garner himself, told police that Garner was not doing anything illegal. In fact, they said he had just broken up a fight.
Parts of the incident were captured on video by witness Ramsey Orta, who attempted to intervene but was brushed off by the New York police officers, who then tried to place Garner in handcuffs.
Orta told the cops that the physically imposing garner Garner had just broken up a brawl involving three men outside a beauty parlor in the Tompkinsville neighborhood of Staten Island.
Be warned, the video is graphic and difficult to watch.
“When I kissed my husband this morning, I never thought it would be for the last time,” Esaw Garner, the deceased man’s wife, told the New York Daily News. She said police did not tell her what had taken place until she was brought to a hospital to identify her husband’s body.
“I saw him with his eyes wide open and I said, ‘Babe, don’t leave me, I need you.’ But he was already gone,” she told the Daily News.
She said the detective told her that her husband’s death involved “wrongdoing” and police confirmed that the New York Police Department Internal Affairs division was investigating the circumstances of Garner’s death.
On the video, Garner appears extremely angry at what he says is police harassment, telling the officers, “Every time you see me, you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. It stops today. I’m minding my business please just leave me alone.”
Records showed that Garner had been arrested 31 times in the past 26 years, including nine times in the past five on charges of selling black market cigarettes on which no tax is charged.
When police place him in the choke hold, Garner is heard to plead, “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!”
Within moments after cops applied the choke hold, he collapses, motionless.
Reverend Al Sharpton is now involved with the case which has heightened tensions between residents and police in the Staten Island neighborhood. Sharpton and the family of Eric Garner plan to call on Saturday for a full investigation in to man’s death.