The Sun : Police choked my unarmed dad to death as he begged for his life – and George Floyd’s death brought it all flooding back

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AN UNARMED black man lies on the pavement with a police officer's arm around his neck, gasping for air and crying 'I can't breathe, I can't breathe.'

But this is not George Floyd, the 46-year-old whose death in police custody has sparked protests in the US and across the UK, it is dad-of-six Eric Garner who was brutally killed six years ago.

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Eric Garner was slammed to the ground by police and held in a chokehold before he died
AP:Associated Press

The 43-year-old died on July 17, 2014, after being slammed to the ground by NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo and put in a chokehold – a restraining move banned by the department in the 1990s.

Distressing footage captured him pleading at least 11 times, but officers remained on top of him until he fell unconscious and died.

The video was posted online and his final words "I can't breathe" have become a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Speaking exclusively to Sun Online from her home in New York, Eric's daughter Emerald Snipes-Garner reveals the toll that the haunting similarities between her father and Mr Floyd's death have taken on her.

George Floyd died after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck
AFP or licensors

Eric Garner is held down on the ground by NYPD cops in 2014
YouTube

She says: "It's like reliving my father's death. It takes a piece from you every time – I can't watch the video of George Floyd's death.

"It took me five years to watch the one of my father.

"When things like this happen, it makes my heart that little bit weaker seeing the injustice and people having to deal with police brutality.

"It takes a toll on your mind, your body, your spirit, your soul to keep seeing it. It's hard."

Unarmed George Floyd repeated a plea similar to that of Emerald's father 16 times before he choked to death under the knee of disgraced Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin, now charged with second-degree murder.

As the white officer, who had 18 complaints of misconduct to his name, cut off the oxygen and blood supply to Mr Floyd's brain for almost nine minutes, he casually kept his hands in his pockets and his sunglasses on his head – even as pedestrians begged him to stop.

Tragically, the last words of the 46-year-old father have also been the last words of countless other African-Americans killed by law enforcement entrusted to protect and serve them – 'I can't breathe.'

Today, The Sun Online investigates the ugly impact police brutality continues to have on millions in the US, sharing experiences from those who survived violent attacks and from the loved ones of those who did not.

Emerald Snipes-Garner spoke out about the death of her dad Eric Garner in 2014
REUTERS

The footage of George Floyd's death went viral
AP:Associated Press

The beginnings of viral video violence and Black Lives Matter

In the early hours of New Year's Day 2009 Oscar Grant, an unarmed father-of-one, was pinned to the ground by officers Tony Pirone and Johannes Mehserle at the Fruitvale train station in Oakland, California.

With Pirone's knee forced down onto his neck, Grant pleaded: "I can't breathe."

As he lay face down on the ground, he was shot in the back by Mehserle.

At just 22 years old, he was added to the harrowing list of thousands of African-Americans killed by law enforcement in the US.

However, unlike many of the other cases before him, his shooting was filmed on mobile phones by bystanders.

The footage was soon shared with broadcasters and watched hundreds of thousands of times on Facebook.

"It gave a visual to the world about just how true police violence is," Grant's uncle Cephus X Johnson, also known as Uncle Bobby, tells The Sun Online.

"Oscar's death at the time was the first to be captured on a mobile phone.

"Of course, we'd had Rodney King's video in the early 1990s, but Oscar's created a brand-new movement because now we all had mobile phones and more incidents could now be recorded."

Oscar Grant was shot in the back as he lay face down on the ground
AP:Associated Press

Officer Johannes Mehserle was convicted of manslaughter
AP:Associated Press

The camcorder footage of a gang of LAPD officers savagely beating unarmed Rodney King on the roadside horrified the world in 1991.

When a jury ruled the four officers acted lawfully during a trial the following year, riots erupted across Los Angeles – but little changed in the aftermath.

This time, when the video of Mr Grant's death went viral, protests spread across Oakland and a new movement was born.

Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, said of the group's formation: "When people tell the story of Black Lives Matter, they either start it in 2014 with Mike Brown, or they start it in 2013 with Trayvon Martin.

"But for us, for those of us who created Black Lives Matter, it really does kind of start with Oscar Grant."

Rodney King became the victim of police brutality in 1991
AP:Associated Press

Rodney King was beaten by LA police officers in a horrifying video
AP:Associated Press

Police killed 1300 in California since 2009

The demonstration that followed his death led to Mehserle being arrested, charged and eventually convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

He was jailed for two years, minus time already served in custody – but he remains the only officer to be convicted in this way.

Cephus X Johnson, who helps support the Love Not Blood Campaign set up in Grant's memory, adds: "Since Oscar's death in 2009, there have been 1,300 people killed by police in California.

"However, it's only Oscar's killer that was ever charged with a crime – no one else.

"The truth is that it's because Oakland burned after Oscar's death, the riots spread and people rebelled and continued to shout for justice.

"As a result, for the first time in the state, we had an officer arrested, charged, convicted and sent to jail.

"It's important for communities now to make sure the media doesn't just focus on the rioting and the looting, and those working in the background put their legislation proposals and demands for accountability forward.

"We need the other three officers involved in George Floyd's death to be charged, too. It is the only way we can get good officers to begin to tell on bad officers.

"We need to break that code of silence."

Rodney King's beating caused riots in Los Angeles and across the US
Getty - Contributor

Officer shot me five times and said 'I hope you die'

Leon Ford was just 19 years old when he was pulled over by Pittsburgh Police on November 11, 2012.

When officers David Derbish and Andrew Miller checked his ID and ran it through the database, they refused to believe Mr Ford was who he said he was – instead they accused him of being someone with a similar name who was wanted by police at the time.

Despite his pleas, the officers repeatedly called him a liar, made threats to assault him and threw racial slurs at him.

With the engine still running, Derbish reached into the car and tried to remove Ford.

The ensuing scuffle caused Mr Ford's car to knock into gear, move forward and crash a few yards away.

Officers claimed he was attempting to flee the scene and shot him five times in the chest.

Remarkably, Mr Ford survived.

He recalls: "After they shot me five times, they pulled me out of the car, slammed me to the ground and handcuffed me.

"One of the officers even knelt down next to my head and said: 'I hope you f***ing die you criminal'."

Ford was rushed to hospital with a bullet lodged in his spine.

Medics battled tirelessly to save his life, but he was left paralysed and wheelchair-bound.

While still in his hospital bed, officers arrested him on charges including aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and attempting to escape.

Leon Grant was left in a wheelchair after being shot by a police officer
Twitter

Officer who fired gun promoted during probe

Unlike Oscar Grant's tragedy, there was no video footage from bystanders to support his claims, nor bodycam footage from the officers.

After a lengthy court fight, Leon Ford was eventually cleared of all wrongdoing – as were the officers, who stood trial accused of assault and battery and excessive force.

Instead of convicting and holding them to account, the city of Pittsburgh settled a £4.3million civil claim with Ford in 2018.

Derbish was even promoted to the rank of detective while the case against him was ongoing.

Leon Ford, who has since become a renowned activist calling for change, claims that even if there was video evidence available, the end result would be the same: "It's deeper than footage, it's more about perspective.

"Often, you have white jurors with a bias to believe that a police officer would never do anything wrong and no matter how much evidence they have to show otherwise, they would never believe it.

"It happens in most of these cases where the officers are wrong. The only form of justice, and it's absolutely not justice, is the only thing that America does: settlement.

You can paralyse someone, you can beat someone, you can kill someone and they can just pay for it.

Leon Grant

"That's disgusting – you can't buy a life, you can print money but you can't buy a life.

"You can paralyse someone, you can beat someone, you can kill someone and they can just pay cash for it.

"The officers were never held accountable for what they did to me. The officer that shot me was promoted to a detective while I had my case against him in the city.

"No one has been held accountable."

Looting and arson broke out in the Los Angeles riots of 1991
Getty Images - Getty

'The pain never goes away'

The Black Lives Matter movement was already attracting global attention in 2014, with Hollywood A-listers, sports stars and chart-topping musicians joining millions in calling for change when Eric Garner died.

Now, daughter Emerald says the painful memories are flooding back – and she has reached out to George Floyd's family to offer support.

"I'm talking to George Floyd's brother and I tell him I feel his pain – and when he tells me he feels my pain we understand each other," she says.

"It took me a long time to begin to deal with my father's death and five months before even starting therapy.

"You're thrust into the spotlight with media attention and activists and you don't know how to mourn.

"Even now I still have good days and bad days, days where I cannot get out of bed and days where I cry for no reason.

"That hurt and that pain is never going to go away."

The staggering number of deaths in custody

Between 2013 and 2019, 7,627 people were killed by police in America.

Of those killed, 1,945 victims were African-American.

The figures mean that, despite only being 13 percent of the US' population, more than 25 percent of all people killed by police were black.

The stats were collected by data scientists from research group mappingpoliceviolence.org (https://mappingpoliceviolence.org/) and reveal that black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people.

Not only that, but the rate at which African-American people are arrested compared to white people is disproportionately higher still.

According to FBI figures from 2018, of the 7.7million arrest logs that include the suspects' race, 27.4 percent of all those held in custody were black.

In comparison, 69 percent of the people arrested were white, despite making up 76.5 percent of the population.

Data from MPV also revealed eight of the 100 largest departments killed African-Americans at a higher rate than the US murder rate between 2013 and 2019.

During that time, 96 percent of officers were never charged, three percent were charged and only one percent were convicted.

A study by the Center for Policing Equity in 2016 revealed.

Officers 'not penalised' for black deaths

Despite the NYPD banning the chokehold used by officer Pantaleo for Mr Garner's death, he was never prosecuted – and the move is still not illegal.

In further shocking similarities to George Floyd's death, Pantaleo had seven disciplinary complaints and 14 individual allegations made against him prior to the notorious incident.

Derek Chauvin, the officer charged with George's murder has at least 17 complaints against him, while his partner Tou Thao has six.

Emerald, whose sister Erica died last year before ever seeing justice for their dad, is calling for increased accountability – and blames the deaths on failings to investigate complaints, which ultimately allowed dangerous officers to remain on the streets.

She adds: "It's systematic racism against black people and accountability needs to be had.

"It is clear for officers that if you kill a black person you do not get penalised because they can say: 'I feared for my life.'

"When these complaints come in, officers are not held to account.

"If they were, there would not be a next one, or a next one, or a next one.

"I used to work in retail and if I had three complaints made against me, I'd be fired straight away whether it was my fault or not.

"But police are treated differently.

Former Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin poses for a booking photograph
Reuters

"That's what we're calling to change. Now that we have camera phones and videos and we can tell our side of the story the 'fearing for my life' part should be cancelled out. But it's not.

"It starts at the top – the lawmakers and policymakers need to say what they're going to do about accountability."

Emerald and her family battled for five years for justice, only to be told the courts would not prosecute any of the officers involved in her father's death.

It took a petition signed by 144,000 people before Pantaleo was even dismissed from the force, where he remained for five years after Mr Garner's death – and even received pay rises.

Now, Emerald and her family are calling to outlaw the chokehold, where the neck is clamped between the forearm and bicep, cutting off the individual's airway and blood circulation to the brain.

Since George Floyd's death, the Eric Garner Law petition has rocketed to 120,000 signatures.

She adds: "I hope the people now that are out demonstrating, rioting and looting will show their love and support for this law.

"We need unity, we need to act."

The elephant in the room when calling for change

But sadly it's not just Emerald who has been met with resistance when calling for reform.

Remarkably, even city and authority leaders experience resistance when attempting to hold officers to account in the US.

One of the main reasons is the political clout that police unions maintain.

While the Mayor of Minneappolis Jacob Frey and the city's Police Chief Medaria Arradondo took swift action to fire the four officers involved in Mr Floyd's death, the city's police union chief publicly blasted the decision.

Lieutenant Bob Kroll, President of the Minneapolis Police Federation, is a vehement voice of support for Chauvin and has vowed to fight to have each of the officers reemployed.

The former cop, who himself reportedly has 19 complaints to his name including a string of violent assault allegations, branded George Floyd a "violent criminal" and called protestors a "terrorist movement".

A protester wears a BLM face mask in Bristol
PA:Press Association

Despite the move to try to hold the officers to account, Mayor Frey insists the police are a long way off from change.

He adds: "The elephant in the room with regard to police reform and making the changes necessary to combat institutionalised racism and have a full on culture shift is the police union.

"It includes the contract with that union and then the arbitration that ultimately is necessary.

"It sets up a system where we have difficulty both disciplining and terminating officers who have done wrong.

"And so, if you want to see a full culture shift, we have to get new officers in who embody the vision of our very forward thinking and procedurally justice orientated chief. And, get officers out who do not embody that vision."

If officers are dismissed, many will appeal.

An investigation by Minnesota's St. Paul Pioneer Press found that between 2014 and 2019, dismissed officers were reinstated 46 per cent of the time by Minnesota arbitrators.

And, according to advocacy groups in Minneapolis-St Paul, also known as the Twin Cities, the Minneapolis' Office of Police Conduct Review has investigated 2,600 misconduct allegations since 2012.

David Bicking, board member of Communities United Against Police Brutality, told the New York Times only 12 cases (0.46 per cent) resulted in an officer being disciplined.

Will the officers be convicted of killing George Floyd?

Minnesota's Attorney General Keith Ellison elevated Derek Chauvin's charge to second-degree murder last week.

The other three officers – Thomas Lane, J Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, none of whom had been previously charged – now face counts of aiding and abetting murder.

Chauvin's initial charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter remain.

However, despite the Attorney General vowing to fight for justice, he warned: "Winning a conviction will be hard."

It's a worrying message echoed by one of the US' most famous lawyers Susan Karten.

The New York City attorney has defended victims of police misconduct for more than 30 years.

One of her most prominent cases involved the death of unarmed Anthony Baez, 29, who was killed by NYPD officer Francis Livoti while playing American football outside his family's home in the Bronx in 1994.

Similarly to both Panteleo and Chauvin, Livoti had 15 complaints against him but was allowed to remain on the beat.

After Mr Baez's death, Livoti was charged with criminally negligent homicide only to be acquitted by State Supreme Court Justice Gerald Sheindlin in a non-jury trial.

A woman holds up a sign outside the US Embassy on Sunday
London News Pictures

Susan Karten joined Anthony's family in the fight for justice, taking his case to the federal courts.

In 1998, Livoti was eventually convicted of depriving Mr Baez of his civil rights to not be killed and sentenced to seven-and-a-half-years in jail.

It was hoped that the family's laborious fight would pave the way for future cases, however Ms Karten fears nothing has changed.

"I never thought that we would be seeing these incidents 25, 30 years on after I first started," Karten, who remains extremely close friends with the Baez family, tells The Sun Online. "I think the numbers of incidents are increasing, I really do. It's been going on much too long.

"If you look at the cases, they all have a similar pattern. A rogue cop who thinks he's a cowboy, he's had loads of complaints that were never addressed, they're in the union and very well protected and they behave like this believing they can get away with it."

Following Livoti's conviction, Karten secured a record $3million settlement with the NYPD over Mr Baez's death for his family, but she believes the misconduct of officers is unwavering.

Susan Karten has defended victims of police misconduct for more than 30 years
Skartenlaw.com

Mr. Baez died after an officer applied a chokehold while trying to arrest him.
Handout

"Nothing has changed with these officers – it's just now we have video," she claims.

On the George Floyd case, she says: "But now it's in the hands of the justice system, you can see already how the autopsy report has been written and the indictment has been written that leaves a lot of loopholes for the defence.

"There is no way that I can say for sure that there will be a conviction here – there are many factors that come into play when prosecuting cops.

"We have qualified immunity, which basically means officers have immunity from prosecution and it makes a huge problem for prosecutors.

"The prosecutors don't have the stomach to go after these guys.

"It's set up for defeat. We are far from home."



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