“I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.”
That’s what Eric Garner struggled to say as one New York Police Department officer held him by the neck from behind while others found the hands of the 43-year-old father of six, cuffing them behind his back.
“I didn’t do nothing,” Garner initially argued with a plain clothes officer on Staten Island Thursday afternoon.
“I didn’t sell anything,” he added a moment later.
The New York Daily News reported that the police said Garner has a history of selling untaxed cigarettes and has been arrested for doing so before. The New York Post reported that Garner had 30 arrests on his record for selling the cigarettes illegally. This is what police said they saw Garner doing Thursday, sparking the altercation.
“I’m tired of it. Every time you see me you want to mess with me. This stops today,” Garner said. “Everybody standing there will tell you that I didn’t do nothing. I didn’t sell nothing. …I’m minding my business, officer. I’m minding my business. Please just leave me alone.”
In that moment, one of the plain clothes officers engaging with Garner put his hands on him. Garner struggled and almost half a dozen other officers quickly descended upon him, bringing him down to the ground, one holding him in a chokehold and later pressing his face into the pavement.
“Once again, police beating up on people,” Ramsey Orta, who filmed video of the incident and provided it to the Daily News, said. “All he did was break up a fight. And this is what happens for breaking up a fight. This s*** is crazy.”
It was difficult to see what else happened to Garner later in the footage with several police officers standing around him and others demanding that Orta back up.
Watch the video of the incident:
“They jumped him and they were choking him. He was foaming at the mouth,” Orta told the Daily News. “And that’s it, he was done. The cops were saying, ‘No, he’s OK, he’s OK.’ He wasn’t OK.”
Garner could be heard telling police he couldn’t breathe at least eight times.
The NYPD would only tell the Daily News that Garner was “placed in custody, went into cardiac arrest and died” at the hospital where he was transported.
Garner’s wife, Esaw, isn’t buying it though.
“They’re covering their asses. He was breaking up a fight,” Esaw Garner told the Daily News. “They harassed and harassed my husband until they killed him.”
A man who only wanted to go on the record with the Daily News with his first name, Douglas, described Garner as an “intimidating” man because of his size but said he was really “just a big teddy bear.”
“He’s the nicest guy. I can’t believe what I saw. That’s no way to do an arrest,” Douglas told the newspaper.
The site Photography Is Not a Crime, which advocates for the legal right to film officers performing public duties, said “the video speaks for itself. He was killed by the NYPD.”