LOWER MANHATTAN — The head of the NYPD's union said Thursday that Eric Garner caused his own death because the Staten Island man should not have resisted arrest.
“We feel Mr. Garner made a choice that day to resist arrest,” Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch said. “You can not resist arrest. [...] It leads to a dangerous confrontation.”
The union head's statements, which came during a 20-minute press conference Thursday, was the most vocal defense of Pantaleo since a grand jury cleared him in Garner's death Wednesday, sparking widespread protests throughout the city and criticism from many local leaders.
During the protests, many chanted the phrase, "I can't breathe," quoting what Garner repeatedly told officers before slipping unconscious.
Officer Daniel Pantaleo employed "textbook training," Lynch said while disputing the claim that the officer used a chokehold to subdue Garner for selling untaxed cigarettes by wrapping his arm around the Staten Island man's neck in July.
"If you can speak, you can breathe," Lynch said.
Lynch also slammed Mayor Bill de Blasio for not publicly supporting police strongly enough, which he likened to "throwing the NYPD under the bus."
“What we did not hear [from the mayor] is that you can not go out and break the law. [...] You can not resist arrest,” Lynch said. “We need to teach our children to respect police officers.”
Lynch supported the grand jury's decision not to indict Pantaleo, but welcomed a fuller federal probe, something that many who opposed the decision have since called for.
On the opposite side of the issue, during a separate press conference Thursday, Rev. Al Sharpton called nationwide police reform.
He announced plans for a Dec. 13 march on Washington, D.C., with the families of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, who was gunned down by a police officer in Ferguson, MO, earlier this year.
"[Police] have more respect in regard to mobsters than they do for a guy selling cigarettes," Sharpton said. "And you wonder why we’re outraged?"