With Firing Of NYPD's Pantaleo, Let This Be the "Last Tragedy" -- De Blasio

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New York City Mayor de Blasio

[Commentary]

Today in our city we ended a chapter that has brought our people so much pain and so much fear over these last five years. The pain was because we all watched a human being die before our eyes on a video, watched a man who should be still alive today. 

And it was so difficult for all of us to reconcile what we saw with what we must believe about law enforcement. Our officers are here to protect us, to keep us safe and yet we watched a man die, an unarmed man and it caused so many people to ask, what if that was my brother right there in that situation, what if that was my son, what if that was my father, what if that was me?

The fear was because for a long time people wondered if we would be left without justice. The place that we had turned for generations to, the place that was synonymous with making things right failed us, the United States Department of Justice, absent and unwilling to act even to come to any decision for five long years. But today we have finally seen justice done. Today we saw the NYPD’s own disciplinary process act fairly and impartially. For years, people have questioned whether a police department can provide justice for all and we watched a fair and impartial trial, we watched an objective decision by a Deputy Commissioner of the NYPD, affirmed by the First Deputy Commissioner and affirmed by the Police Commissioner. Justice has been done.

And that decision has resulted in the termination of Officer Pantaleo. For the Garner family that has gone through so much agony for so long and has waited this long just to have one trial finally conclude with a decision. I hope today brings some small measure of closure. Today will not bring Eric Garner back but I hope it brings some small measure of closure and peace to the Garner family.

Now we have to look beyond this tragedy because our city is at a pivotal moment. And I am reminded of what Dr. King taught us, paraphrasing him – in moments of suffering or difficulty there are two ways we can respond. We can react with bitterness and division and we can be trapped by the sins of our past. Or we can transform the suffering into progress. We can find redemption. We can use a moment like this to turn it into something better, to move ourselves forward. And that is for all of us to do. We can't have the illusion that someone else creates a better society. That is for all of us to do and we have to do it. We have to all create something better.

And I see this as a sacred mission we all must take on, we must devote ourselves to this simple goal that no person, no family, no community should ever go through the agony that we've all experienced here over these last years. It should never happen again in this city or this country as the only goal that is acceptable. Let this be the last tragedy. To actually get there, we all have to confront our history honestly. And it's not a history that we can always be proud of. It's something that we have to own up to and deal with. But I know that the NYPD of today is a different institution than it was just a few years ago. I know the NYPD has changed profoundly. I know that members of the NYPD learned the lessons of this tragedy. They acted on it, they did something about it. It is a beginning, but we have a lot more to do and the change has to get deeper and deeper. And that is not a top-down enterprise – that is for all of us to do.

So I want to say to our police officers, and I say this at every graduation ceremony – you made a choice, a good and noble choice to serve others, to protect others. You did it because you want to help people. That's why people join the NYPD. It is extremely demanding work. I know that. And I want all New Yorkers to know that. And to our officers – a simple statement, we need you and we need you to build deeper trust with all the people you serve. Because that is not only the right thing to do, it is the best way to keep everyone safe, officers and civilians alike.

And I want to say to the people of our city that I truly believe that change can happen, that I truly believe that justice can be done. And I ask everyone to believe that because that is the only way we will make the change. Today provides some evidence that there can be justice, but we have a lot more to do. I am asking all New Yorkers to be part of moving this city forward. Work with our police officers, keep each other safe, build trust with our officers. It's up to everyone. Members of our communities all over the city also have to step forward with an open hand to our police officers, engage them and thank them and listen to them just as our officers must engage and thank and listen to community members who come forward in common cause. So we must move forward from today with a common and singular purpose. 

This must be the last tragedy that we experience. This must be the last time we have to say one to another, never again. We will never let this happen in our city again. And that'll take a lot of work and it will take a lot of time. But that change can happen. And as this chapter ends today, I know we can build a New York City that ensures fairness and justice for all.   

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