Says Independent Federal Prosecutors should always be used in police violence cases
Howie Hawkins, the recent, Green Party candidate for Governor, said today that it was a travesty of justice for Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan to fail to get a grand jury to indict David Pantaleo, the cop who killed Eric Garner. Hawkins repeated his long standing call for independent prosecutors to be appointed in cases involving police violence.
"Being a cop shouldn't be a license to kill people of color. If you are going to arrest someone for allegedly selling loose cigarettes, you should be able to do so without killing him, especially when he is nonviolent," noted Hawkins.
Hawkins said that to effectively hold police officers accountable to the law, federal prosecutors must be appointed who are not tied to the local "old boys’ networks" in the local justice system. Whenever the police kill, brutalize, or otherwise violate a citizen's civil rights, the US Department of Justice should be brought in to investigate and file charges if warranted because the DA's and police are constant collaborators.
"Let's remember this was a grand jury proceeding, not an open trial where after both sides presents evidence with cross-examination a jury determines guilt or innocence. The coroner had ruled this a homicide. To say there is no basis for the possibility of a crime having been committed is incredulous, and shows that Donovan didn't want an indictment," said Hawkins.
Hawkins said the failure to indict Pantaleo showed that the call for officers to wear body cameras would do little to halt excessive force by the police. Clear videos existed of how Garner was choked to death by the police, even as he pleaded that he could not breathe.
Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department will launch a civil rights investigation into Garner’s death.
The police killing of Eric Garner in Staten Island is similar to the police murder of Syracuse resident Jonny Gammage in a Pittsburgh suburb in 1995. Hawkins, a Syracuse resident, was active in a campaign for a law for federal jurisdiction in police brutality cases. Jonny was also suffocated to death by suburban Pittsburgh police, in his case during a routine traffic stop. The proposed Jonny Gammage Law would mandate:
• appointment of a federal prosecutor by the US Attorney General whenever a law officer is accused of violating the civil rights of a human being, including bodily injury or death;
• US Department of Justice investigation of whether prosecution is warranted for all charges of civil rights violations and brutality by police officers by credible public or private sources, such as Citizen Review Boards, Human Rights Commissions, and civil rights organizations;
• removal of jurisdiction over such cases from the local and state justice system, including the grand jury, to the US Department of Justice and the federal courts;
• the immediate suspension of an officer charged until the case is resolved.
For More Information: "The Jonny Gammage Law: Federal Prosecution of Police Brutality," by Rev. Larry Ellis, Syracuse Greens, http://www.greens.org/s-r/23/23-06.html.