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Release: Transcript of de Blasio Q&A on Friday, August 2, 2019 on recommendation to fire NYPD Officer Pantaleo for actions in Eric Garner death.
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Mayor Bill de Blasio: There’s been a lot of pain in this city over the last five years and there’s been a lot of fear. The pain was because we watched an innocent man die and the fear was because people worried that there would be no justice, that the inequities that have plagued us for generations would simply continue unchecked. But today, for the first time in these long five years, the system of justice is working. For the Garner family – and I’ve spent time with them and I’ve heard the pain that they have felt – it’s been a very long five years, with no sense of closure, no sense of justice. Until today, the Garner family has been failed by this entire process. And think about what they have gone through – they watched him die, just as we all did. They felt that pain, and then they were told over and over again by the District Attorney, by the Department of Justice that the government would do its job – and they waited, and they waited, and they waited, and nothing happened. And as all this stretched on, it reinforced a suspicion – and it’s one felt by millions – that justice doesn’t exist for people who look like Eric Garner.

Today, we finally saw a step toward justice and accountability. We saw a process that was actually fair and impartial. And I hope that this will now bring the Garner family a sense of closure and the beginning of some peace. But full justice means that there can never be another tragedy like the one that befell Eric Garner. Full justice is when we never have another death. That is all of our responsibility, and it requires us to change everything.

For the last five years, our mission has been to fundamentally change the nature of policing in New York City. After the death of Eric Garner, everything was reevaluated. The entire police force was retrained – 36,000 officers retrained to deescalate conflict, to understand the implicit bias that we all carry with us, to ensure it would not interfere with their duty. The approach to the community is entirely different today – and we had to weed out the distance and the separation that was the norm of the past, and, through neighborhood policing, actually create a dynamic where our officers and community members got to know each other as human beings, where people felt they were on the same side, working toward a common goal.

And we had to change the approach on the ground. Last year, there were 150,000 fewer arrests than five years earlier because there were too many times when people were being arrested unnecessarily and too many conflicts that came from it. And this NYPD proved that fewer and fewer people could be arrested and the City could become safer. Safety and fairness must walk hand-in-hand. And I hoped that today begins the process of restoring some faith and in helping people believe that there actually is accountability and fairness.

We have a lot more work to do. We’ll be at this a long time, but we all have a sense of common mission – there can never be another tragedy like this. This city, this nation should never be put through this agony. We should never lose another innocent man or woman. We should never have people’s faith undermined. It’s in our power to do something better and to do something different. That is the course we set five years ago and that’s the course we will stay on.

A few words in Spanish –

[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]

I’m going to take a few questions now, but I want to say upfront, and I want to remind everyone, this is an ongoing legal matter. So, there’s very little I can add to my statement, but I do want to take a few questions.


Question: Mr. Mayor, who specifically in the Justice Department told New York City to hold off? Can you name the name?

Mayor: We’ll get you the history – multiple conversations.

Question: Have you personally read Judge Maldonado’s recommendation and do you agree that, you know, he should be fired?

Mayor: Again, what I am talking about today is a fair and impartial process has occurred. That’s all I had to say.

Question: [Inaudible] read –

Mayor: No, I have not.

Question: [Inaudible] Congressional hearings. Do you support that and what kind of law [inaudible] –

Mayor: Look, I haven’t heard what he said today. I know members of Congress want to look at this issue. I certainly think it’s fair to say, here was a tragedy, it cannot happen again. And what I would ask the members of Congress to look at is the role of the Justice Department going forward. Remember – and I said it earlier on the radio – we had three horrifying cases that we all remember too well. The Louima case, the Bell case, and the Diallo case – in every one of them there was prosecution either by the Justice Department or the District Attorney. What’s happened these past five years is unfathomable. There was no decision even from the Justice Department. That’s a central question to me, Marcia. That can’t happen again in the future. There has to be a decision on a meaningful timeline.

Question: What do you want Congress to do when they look at the Justice Department –

Mayor: They have to – I think they have to beg this very important question. The Justice Department has to ensure speedy justice. It’s right there in the Constitution. There can’t be a process that goes on five years ever again.

Question: Have you spoken to the Garner family and what has been their response?

Mayor: I’m not going to go into private conversations. As I said, it’s a legal matter.

Question: Mayor, you said today that there’s finally been a step towards justice on accountability. Does that mean that you believe [inaudible] was just?

Mayor: Again, I believe the process was fair and impartial. And it’s the first time we’ve seen a decision. I want to remind everyone – over five years the District Attorney did not bring indictment therefore there was no trial, the Justice Department did not bring an indictment therefore there was no trial. For the first time there was a trial – a fair and impartial trial – and a result. Remember that point about justice delayed, is justice denied – at least there was a trial and a result and I have faith that it was a fair and impartial process.

Question: You said on the radio this morning that [inaudible] were put in place to never wait on the Justice Department again. Do you regret waiting on the Justice Department and not going ahead with the departmental trial in 2015?

Mayor: Absolutely, I cannot understand how this happened. Everything I had seen my entire life suggested the Justice Department believed it was its responsibility to act when other levels of government had not or at least to make a decision quickly for the benefit of justice. It’s literally beyond any comparison – I cannot find any parallel to what happened here and it’s an unacceptable reality. I did not think it possible, honestly. I did not think it was possible under either administration federally. But not that we’ve experienced we will never allow that to happen again. Gloria?

Question: Mr. Mayor, we understand the Police Commissioner is going to make the final call here but have you spoken to him about the judge’s recommendation and why aren’t you saying what you – what your personal opinion is now that we have this recommendation from the judge – what you personally believe should happen to this officer [inaudible]?

Mayor: I have not spoken to him and that is because I respect this process and I want everyone to understand this. If you believe that there is a fair and impartial process – and I do – then letting it reach its conclusion beyond reproach, beyond question is necessary. And I am talking as the steward of this city. We need closure in this city. The Garner family deserves it, first and foremost, but we as a city need to end this chapter and move forward. I believe my role is to respect this process and respect the State law. And that’s the best way to get to that closure.

Question: Mr. Mayor, did you even investigate whether you have the power to fire Officer Pantaleo?

Mayor: I’ve absolutely, and the State law is abundantly clear, there has to be due process and I emphasize to everyone that is an American value. Everyone in this room should value due process. The problem here is that we listened to the United States Justice Department under two different administrations and we respected their demand that we hold back. But once it was clear that they were not acting, and we moved forward, we are governed by State law and that’s what the process has been. Due process, a trial, a decision by a judge, a final decision by the Police Commissioner, yes?

Question: Mr. Carr recently died and so did Erica Garner a couple – about a year and a half ago and some people have said that Erica Garner died from the stress related to fighting for justice for her father. Can you speak a little bit about the family members of his who are no longer here to even see a conclusion to this?

Mayor: It’s very painful that this family has been put through hell and part of why I’m reminding all New Yorkers of these previous, horrible situations is to make clear how wrong this was. It’s bad enough that an innocent man died, we all saw it, we all felt it, but when we think about the other instances that this whole city felt, we all remember the Diallo case, we all remember the Louima case, the Bell case, justice proceeded. You could agree or disagree with any element of what happened, but there was a trial. The notion that five years past without a trial and that the place that had been the ultimate dispenser of justice failed to act in any way, shape, or form is unfathomable and to your point that family members died in the meantime and never got to see any closure is extremely painful and we cannot let that happen again to another family.

Question: So to what extent do you believe this is also a result of the immense public pressure that your administration, other parts of government were placed under, would we be here without all the activists [inaudible] the last five years?

Mayor: I respect everyone who has spoken out in their pain, in their outrage, and that’s what I was saying in the beginning. I think so many people feared that we had not moved forward as a city or as a society that injustice was simply going to happen with no result and I appreciate why people felt that and it cannot be. We can’t move forward as a city, we can’t move forward as a nation if people wonder if there is going to be any justice at all. So what was abundantly clear to me, was once a fair and impartial process occurred it would change everything that people were feeling to see an actual process –

Unknown: Fire Pantaleo! Fire Pantaleo! Fire Pantaleo!

Mayor: – And that that changes the entire discussion, that there’s finally been a trial, that there is actually been a decision and it’s a fair and impartial process. Again, this is only a beginning of restoring people’s faith but this is the kind of thing that needed to happen a long time ago, an actual justice process and now it has happened.

Thank you, everyone.