Two years after Eric Garner was killed by New York City police officers using a fatal chokehold as he gasped the now-iconic words “I can’t breathe,” the only person being sent behind bars isn’t the cop, but the man who filmed the killing.
Ramsey Orta, the man who filmed Garner’s death on his cell phone on July 17, 2014, was sentenced earlier this month to four years in jail beginning this October in a plea deal for weapons and drug charges in Staten Island.
Orta says he has faced repeated police harassment and apparent retaliation from the NYPD since filming the killing, and has being arrested several times on various charges, including domestic violence, which prosecutors later dropped.
Orta told the New York Daily News that he pled guilty because he is “tired of fighting,” but doesn’t expect police to stop targeting him, even in prison. He said he will be taking precautions for his safety in his new jail sentence by not eating prison food, claiming that his food was poisoned on at least one occassion while doing time at Rikers Island.
Called a hero by members of Garner’s family and supporters for filming the incident, Orta has admitted to Time Magazine that, in hindsight, he would have released the video anonymously given the way he feels he has been incessantly targeted in the two years since.
Despite Orta’s video revealing Garner´s harrowing last moments on a Staten Island sidewalk, the officer who applied the deadly chokehold, Daniel Pantaleo, has not faced charges. Garner’s family accepted a US$5.9 million settlement from New York City one year ago, but have still continued to urge federal authorities to press charges against Pantaleo to hold him accountable for the killing which was one of the highest-profile cases of police brutality against an unarmed Black man in recent years, largely thanks to Orta’s video.
Garner’s daughter, Erica Garner, has also been denied access to Pantaleo’s personnel records and told that the NYPD cannot grant her Freedom of Information Act request without the officer’s personal consent.
Meanwhile, the Department of Justice investigation has languished amid debates over whether there is enough evidence to press charges.
The case is one of a pattern of criminalization against the people who have caught police brutality on tape and fueled the Black Lives Matter movement with video evidence of the disproportionate use of force that police regularly employ against people of color, particularly Black men. The surge in video evidence, however, hasn’t done much to get cops convicted.
Most recently, in the wake of the police killing of Alton Sterling, two men responsible for filming the confrontation claim they have been targeted with police harassment.
Abdullah Muflahi, the owner of the convenience store in Baton Rouge where Sterling died, has filed a lawsuit against Baton Rouge, the city police, and four officers. The case alleges police seized his store’s security camera and footage without a warrant, took his cellphone, and detained him in a police car for hours without allowing him to make calls.
Muflahi’s attorney, Joel Porter, told Democracy Now that the police officers’ treatment of his client pointed to an “effort to control the narrative of what happened.”
Meanwhile, another man who posted a video of Sterling’s killing that went viral, Chris LeDay, also claimed he has been targeted with retaliation by police.
A U.S. Air Force veteran, LeDay posted the video — filmed by a friend of a friend who has remained anonymous — in hopes of making it go viral through his large social media audience. He told Democracy Now that what followed amounted to a sting operation when he was detained at his job at the Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Atlanta, Georgia, shackled, and held for over 24 hours. Police released LeDay after he paid US$1,200 in traffic fines. Police allegations of an outstanding assault and battery charge against LeDay also disappeared, he said.
Both LeDay and Muflahi told Democacy Now they have no regrets about releasing the videos of Alton Sterling’s killing.
“The main thing I wanted to do was try to help the Sterling family get justice,” said Leday, “and use my platform to put these cops on display.”