A contentious, yearslong debate inside the Justice Department over whether to bring federal civil rights charges against an officer in the death of Eric Garner ended on Tuesday after Attorney General William P. Barr ordered that the case be dropped.
The United States attorney in Brooklyn, Richard P. Donoghue, announced the decision one day before the fifth anniversary of Mr. Garner’s death at the hands of police officers on Staten Island.
The case had sharply divided federal officials and prompted national protests over excessive force by the police.
Bystanders filmed the arrest on their cellphones, recording Mr. Garner as he gasped “I can’t breathe,” and his death was one of several fatal encounters between black people and the police that catalyzed the national Black Lives Matter movement.
His dying words became a rallying cry for demonstrations that led to changes in policing practices across the United States.
Still, a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was captured on a video wrapping his arm around Mr. Garner’s neck. The federal civil rights investigation dragged on for five years amid internal disputes in the Justice Department, under both President Barack Obama and President Trump.
In the end, Mr. Barr made the call not to seek a civil rights indictment against Officer Pantaleo, just before a deadline for filing some charges expired.
His intervention settled the disagreement between prosecutors in the civil rights division, which has pushed for an indictment, and Brooklyn prosecutors, who never believed the department could win such a case.
Garner's family is understandably furious, and the officer who killed him, Daniel Pantaleo, is going to get off scot free. Understand that in America, every black person you know is only still alive because a police officer hasn't found an excuse yet to end them. That includes myself, for it is only by that grace that I'm still writing this blog, because my day has not come yet.
Eric Garner's day came five years ago because he was selling loose cigarettes.
And yes, we ask ourselves at every public interaction, every passing police cruiser, every time we see a beat cop on the street or at a store or restaurant or park, "Is this my time?"
Because we know that should it come, the odds of justice are minimal. It fills me with anger. “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time" as James Baldwin said.
Every day that I get up and I'm still here is one more day I beat those odds.
Black lives still matter.