NEW YORK (Reuters) - Family members gathered on Wednesday evening for the funeral of Eric Garner, who died shortly after police put him in a banned chokehold as they arrested him in New York City where the death has sparked outrage and a promise to reform police training.
Garner’s wife, Esaw Garner, entered the Bethel Baptist Church in Brooklyn leaning heavily on two young boys and looking distressed and exhausted. Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, followed a few minutes later, her head bowed.
A couple of police officers looked on as mourners quietly chatted outside the church.
Garner’s dying moments on a Staten Island sidewalk last Thursday were captured on two videos recorded by bystanders.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was elected last year in part because of his promise to mend frayed relations between the police and New Yorkers belonging to ethnic minorities, has called the death a tragedy.
In the videos, Garner, who was black, can be seen arguing with several police officers arresting him on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes outside a beauty parlor in Staten Island.
Moments later, he is down on the sidewalk with an officer’s arm around his neck, pleading repeatedly that he cannot breathe. After he goes limp, at least seven minutes pass without any apparent attempts at medical intervention beyond a paramedic checking his pulse, which experts have said falls far short of protocol.
Garner, 43, was a father of six children who had previously worked for the city’s parks department. Civil rights activist Al Sharpton will speak at the service and Garner’s cousin Bishop Kareem Evans will officiate.
The Staten Island district attorney and the police department’s internal affairs bureau are investigating Garner’s death.
The city’s police have been banned from using the chokehold for more than 20 years because it can be deadly, particularly when used on someone who is overweight or asthmatic, as Garner was. The city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board has announced a comprehensive study of the 1,022 chokehold allegations against the police it received between 2009 and 2013.
The board investigated 462 of those cases but only nine of them were substantiated.
The city’s medical examiner has not ruled on the cause of Garner’s death.
Two of the police officers involved have been put on desk duty and four emergency response workers were suspended without pay. Bill Bratton, the police commissioner appointed by de Blasio, announced a complete overhaul of police training on Tuesday, focusing on the appropriate use of force.
Sanford Rubenstein, a personal injury lawyer representing Garner’s family, said he will not be commenting on any potential civil litigation until after Garner’s funeral.
Additional reporting by Natasja Sheriff; Editing by Bill Trott and Eric Walsh