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NASW-NYC Issues statement on the tragic death of Eric Garner
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Statement by the

National Association of Social Workers,

New York City Chapter


The Tragic Death of Eric Garner

After Being Held in a Chokehold

By a New York City Police Department Officer


August 4, 2014



The National Association of Social Workers, New York City Chapter, believes it has an ethical responsibility to respond to the tragic death of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old Staten Island resident, who died on Thursday, July 17th, 2014 after being held in a chokehold by New York City Police Department (NYPD) Officer Daniel Pantaleo. Mr. Garner's violent death was captured on video sending a familiar shock, once again, through a community already living with persistent trauma and stress.


In 1993, over twenty years ago, the NYPD prohibited any use of the chokehold restraint; without exception. However, on July 26, 2013, the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board released data demonstrating that this systemic practice continues, with 1,022 complaints between 2009 and 2013 by City residents accusing NYPD officers of putting them in chokeholds.  


As a City we must examine the underlying policies and practices which underpin this tragic death. In addition to the sheer brutality of using the chokehold, Mr. Garner and countless others are stopped for low level offenses because of a community policing strategy of "broken windows." This theory holds that stopping major crimes begins by stopping small ones. This over-policing of low level offenses targets people of color disproportionately and in this circumstance had fatal consequences.


Mayor de Blasio wants to reduce the NYPD's reliance on stop, question and frisk tactics, and the federal courts have demanded major reforms in how this tactic is used. With the death of Mr. Garner, we now see that stop and frisk was just one of the tactics being used by the NYPD that almost exclusively targets people of color for minor legal violations that are largely ignored when committed by whites.


It is not enough to fire the individual perpetrating officers because data shows that the problem is systemic throughout the City.  


Recommended Actions


NASW-NYC applauds Mayor de Blasio for his efforts to end stop and frisk, but we call upon him now to go further in his efforts toward restoring the dignity, safety, and trust of each New Yorker.  This is an opportunity to implement transformative police reform that restores humanity to policing in communities of color.


As a foundational step, we recommend training NYPD officers in order to understand the nature of racism, not simply on the level of individual bias but in its playing out in many of our institutions in society, not only in overt ways but in more subtle forms.  It has been our experience that the training provided by The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond for the past 40 years has been especially relevant, and their Undoing Racism® workshops have been effective in bringing people of all backgrounds to a greater level of understanding of the many forms in which racism takes place.  Until we all better understand these dynamics, the impact on communities of color will continue to be ignored.


Robert Grytdahl, Retired Duluth Deputy Police Chief and Duluth, Minnesota Human Rights Officer, made the following statement about the value of this training:


"When it comes to police officers, I believe that learning to undo racism is just as important as learning first aid. Police officers in Duluth who have attended People's Institute training often act differently in situations where issues of racism come up. They are less likely to personalize the situation.  Instead of becoming defensive, they will show more empathy. Officers who haven't gone through the workshop often make the situation with community worse."


NASW-NYC also recommends CPI/Non-Violent Crisis Intervention (NCI) Training to all NYC police officers to help them learn ways to de-escalate crisis situations in an empathic and non-violent manner.  Across the country many police forces have been trained in NCI, and there is a strong evidence-base that it can defuse even the most disruptive and assaultive people while addressing the care, welfare safety, and security of all involved.


The New York City Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers will partner with community leaders as architects of a New York City where everyone is afforded a fair chance for a better life and where one's race does not predict outcomes.  We are ready to serve the people and Mayor of the City of New York.

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