NEW YORK (Reuters) - All New York City police officers are expected to undergo retraining in the wake of a man’s death on a city sidewalk shortly after he was placed in a chokehold by officers, Bill Bratton, the police commissioner, said on Tuesday.
The dying moments of Eric Garner, 43, can be seen in two bystanders’ videos, which have provoked outrage in the city. Garner can be seen arguing with several police officers, who were arresting him on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes, before he is grappled onto the sidewalk, pleading that he cannot breathe.
Bratton called Garner’s death a “terrible tragedy” on Tuesday, but also described it as an opportunity to reform.
“The legacy is that we go forward and develop a state-of-the-art training procedure for NYPD officers that allows them to effectively interact particularly with communities of color,” Bratton told reporters at the city’s police headquarters.
Bratton said it appears one of the officers used a chokehold on Garner, who was an African-American father of six children and previously worked for the city’s parks department. The city’s police have been barred from using chokeholds, which can be deadly, since 1993.
The city’s medical examiner is yet to rule on the cause of Garner’s death.
Bratton also defended his policing strategy of cracking down on even minor crimes such as the sale of loose cigarettes - a practice often referred to as “broken windows” or quality-of-life policing.
“‘Broken windows,’ quality-of-life will remain an essential component used in balance,” Bratton said. Bratton believes a similar approach during his previous tenure as the city’s police commissioner in the 1990s helped trigger the sharp decline in violent crimes in the city over the last two decades.
Bratton said senior figures from his department had met with officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation who were “monitoring” the case on Tuesday morning. The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Bratton also said he anticipated the U.S. attorney for New York’s Eastern District to open a federal civil-rights violation investigation into Garner’s death.
Robert Nardoza, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, wrote in an email that Lynch’s office was “closely following investigative developments in this tragic case.”
The district attorney in Staten Island and the police department’s internal affairs bureau are investigating Garner’s death.
Garner’s relatives were joined by about 100 supporters from across the city, including several city council members, in a candlelight vigil on Staten Island on Tuesday night ahead of his funeral in Brooklyn on Wednesday. A few of the police officers in attendance bowed their heads to join in the prayers.
“There is a legacy,” Ellisha Flagg, Garner’s sister, said when asked about Bratton’s announcement. “I hope to see better for everybody. Nobody should be hurting no one.”
Many supporters shouted the phrase, “This will end today,” echoing some of Garner’s frustrated last words heard in his videotaped argument with police.
Additional reporting by Natasja Sheriff and Joseph Ax; Editing by Eric Walsh