Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch told reporters on Tuesday that police critics' response to the death of Staten Island man Eric Garner last month has tarnished NYPD officers' reputations. Credit: Bonile Bam/Getty Images
Leaders for two of the largest police unions in the city agreed with critics that there is tension between officers and communities, but blamed "haters" with "anti-police rhetoric" for the strain.
Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch told reporters on Tuesday that police critics' response to the death of Staten Island man Eric Garner last month has tarnished NYPD officers' reputations.
"It was not a chokehold," Lynch said. "He was a big man who had to be brought to the ground to be placed under arrest by shorter police officers. Sometimes the use of force is necessary, but it’s never pretty to watch."
Eyewitness video from late July 17 showed Officer Daniel Panaleo wrap an arm around Garner's neck. On Friday, the medical examiner office ruled Garner's death a homicide due to "compression of his neck (chokehold), compression of his chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police" in addition to Garner's preexisting health conditions.
"We've never seen a document that was more political than that press release released by the ME’s office," Lynch added, arguing that Garner's more than 30 previous arrests — at least 10 related to the selling of loose cigarettes — justified Garner's arrest.
At an unrelated press event, Mayor Bill de Blasio defended the medical examiner's report, calling the office "a gold standard," and that investigations by the Staten Island district attorney and NYPD into Garner's death are ongoing.
"Anything with an allegation, you have to take the word allegation seriously," the mayor said. "So there's several instances that are being investigated and we have to let those investigations take their course."
However, Lynch and Ed Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, questioned the mayor's commitment to police on the street and his invitation of the Rev. Al Sharpton at roundtable last week with Police Commissioner Bill Bratton.
"It is outrageously insulting to all police officers to say that we go out on our streets to choke people of color, as Al Sharpton stated while seated at the table right next to our mayor at City Hall," Lynch said, explaining that behavior and not what suspects look like that leads to police intervention.
Lynch went on to argue that calls for the arrest of Officer Panaleo and for federal intervention by "race-baiters" and "pundits" fueled animosity towards cops.
"Now it's fashionable to resist arrest," he said. "It has to stop today."
Sharpton responded on Tuesday afternoon defended himself from his accusers.
"It is time to have a mature conversation about policing rather than immature name calling and childish attempts to scapegoat," he wrote in a statement.
Meanwhile, local leaders continue to call for Panaleo's arrest.
Bronx Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson, who chairs the Council's public safety committee called the unions' statements "troubling, disturbing and counterproductive comments that will only serve to divide this city" while calling for grand jury to review the case.
Bronx City Councilman and co-chair of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus Andy King said a trial against Panaelo should be no different than any other homicide case.
"Since it has been determined that Eric Garner’s death is a homicide, I am demanding that arrests be made on those who perpetrated this crime," King said in a statement. "We cannot have a double standard when it comes to who to arrest when a homicide has been committed."