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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With New York Congressman Peter King; Interview With Missouri Congressman William Lacy Clay; No Indictment in NYPD Chokehold Death; Interview with U.S. Congressman Peter King of New York; Obama Reacts to Grand Jury Decision
Aired December 3, 2014 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. No indictment against a white police officer involved in the chokehold death of an unarmed African-American man. We're getting new and angry reaction to the grand jury decision in New York.
Protests are heating up and officials are on alert for the possibility of violence. We're covering all the angles of this bombshell decision and fears that it will fan racial tension across the U.S. with the outrage over what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, still very fresh.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
We're following the breaking news in New York City. There's shock, there's anger now that a grand jury has decided not to charge a New York City police officer involved in a chokehold death, all caught on videotape. A protest in Times Square is growing larger and louder right now. This is another racially case in the aftermath of the Ferguson riots and officials are appealing for calm.
We have newsmakers standing by with new reaction, including the National Urban League president and CEO Marc Morial. We also have our correspondents and our analysts in the field, and in the studio. We're covering the breaking story.
Let's get the very latest from CNN's Joe Johns. He's joining us from New York -- Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
We are out on the street where that fatal altercation occurred back in July. As you can see, quite a few people out here on the street right now. So far, it's been a very peaceful gathering and also a number of television cameras as well. We did see a demonstration move through just a little while ago. People chanting, no justice, no peace.
There's certainly a lot of emotion here, even perhaps a bit of anger. I talked to one man, an African-American man, in a suit and tie, telling me that as far as he's concerned, no matter what you wear, no matter how many demonstrations you hold, African-American men in this city and elsewhere are still subjected to stop and frisk and even worse.
For his part, Daniel Pantaleo, the officer whose actions were before the grand jury, did release a statement earlier today, expressing his condolences to the family. The attorney for Eric Garner also has said that, in his view, it is astonishing that the grand jury did not indict the officer on the facts as they stand, also given the fact that there was video of the entire incident.
As I said, it's been peaceful. However, the New York Police Department is on alert. They do have a number of officers available to catch up with any demonstrations should they occur on the streets. There's also a bit of concern about the Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Center, which is scheduled to occur this evening. More police officers on standby for that -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Joe Johns monitoring the situation over there, stand by to you.
Protesters are also gathering in Times Square right now.
CNN's Yon Pomrenze is joining us from the scene.
Yon, what is it like?
YON POMRENZE, CNN PRODUCER: Hi, Wolf.
We started at Times Square, where we had about it looked like 200 protesters. The crowd there was then joined by another group, which about doubled the size to about 200, and now you can see, after staying in Times Square and chanting and protesting there for a while, they have begun marching north.
We know this is the general direction towards where that Rockefeller tree lighting is supposed to happen tonight. People have been chanting, shut it down, shut it down, talking about the tree lighting. But at the same time, I also want to point out people have been chanting. They have been raising a lot of signs, but they also have been very, very measured. They have been staying mostly on the sidewalks.
They have been blocking traffic to let people cross the street. So people are very passionate about what's happening here. But at the same time, they are trying to make sure that this stays for now, what we have seen so far, a peaceful, loud, but peaceful protest -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's hope it stays that way in the coming hours. All right, Yon, thanks very much.
There are also new calls for the Justice Department here in Washington to investigate this entire case.
Our justice reporter Evan Perez is here.
What are you learning? What did -- the attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, what is he going to do?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we expect to hear from the attorney general later today.
The president said that he had talked to him and you heard de Blasio, Mayor de Blasio also say he talked to the attorney general and to the Brooklyn U.S. attorney Loretta Lynch, who is Attorney General Eric Holder's successor. They basically have been looking at this for several months, Wolf.
And what we expect to hear is that they're now formally announcing an investigation that will look not only at this death, but perhaps whether or not there's a bigger problem here with the New York Police Department.
BLITZER: So there will be two separate investigations in New York, just as there are two separate Justice Department investigations in Ferguson, whether or not Eric Garner's civil rights were violated and whether or not there's something inherently wrong with the New York Police Department?
PEREZ: That's right. We expect that that is where this is going to go.
The attorney general has been hinting at this in some letters that he had sent to members of Congress who have been expressing some concern about this. As you know, Wolf, there have been some family members that have met with Loretta Lynch back in August asking for this investigation to begin, and they have -- as you know, have held quiet on this. But now we know that they are going to formally launch an investigation.
BLITZER: We have no idea how long it could take. We heard the mayor, Bill de Blasio, said he hopes they can conclude these investigations expeditiously.
PEREZ: Expeditiously. But, Wolf, the message that you have seen, you see it coming from the Justice Department repeatedly on this, is that you don't necessarily have to see an indictment of officers, you don't necessarily have to see them in handcuffs or going to jail.
What the bigger issue here is reform of police departments. I think that's the message you will hear from the attorney general.
BLITZER: All right, Evan Perez, thanks very much.
President Obama says the death of Eric Garner in New York speaks to larger problems facing the African-American community and indeed the nation. He spoke just a little while ago about the grand jury decision.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is an issue that we've been dealing with for too long, and it's time for us to make more progress than we've made.
And I'm not interested in talk. I'm interested in action. And I am absolutely committed, as president of the United States, to making sure that we have a country in which everybody believes in the core principle that we are equal under the law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's bring in the president and CEO of the National Urban League, Marc Morial. He's joining us from New York. And also joining us, Democratic Congressman Lacy Clay of Missouri. He's a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Gentlemen, thanks very much for joining us.
Marc Morial, first to you. What is your reaction to the decision by the grand jury not to indict the police officer?
MARC MORIAL, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: Well, Wolf, I had a chance to speak with Eric Garner's mother about two hours ago. They are outraged and crushed by the decision of the grand jury.
And I would say, Wolf, the decision of the grand jury defies common sense in this case. Everyone in America got an opportunity to take a look at a video which demonstrates that officers unnecessarily put a chokehold on Eric Garner, wrestled him to the ground. Then another officer put his hand on top of Eric Garner's head, and then, once he was in distress, there was even a failure to apply or first aid to Eric Garner.
This defies common sense. It's a travesty of justice. It's part of this disturbing pattern we're seeing where police officers who violate the civil rights of citizens are not held accountable by local district attorneys.
BLITZER: As you know -- and I'm going to get to Congressman Clay in a moment -- but, Marc Morial, 23 members of that grand jury, 14 whites, nine non-whites, so it was a mixed grand jury.
MORIAL: One of the questions with all of these grand juries is, what was the posture of the prosecutor? Did the prosecutor do, as prosecutors do in most cases, Wolf? And that is present to the grand jury a recommendation that charges be brought, as opposed to raising their hands and allowing the grand jury to function like a rudderless ship.
One of the concerns I have with the New York case, just like the Ferguson case, is whether the criminal justice system operates differently when in fact the potential accused is a police officer, and when that police officer happens in both of these instances, in Ferguson here, to be white and the victim of the police officer's actions is a person of color.
The criminal justice system, and these protests, the outrage that many have expressed has to do with how the criminal justice system has failed to respond. Now, we have got the Akai Gurley, which is another case here in New York, the Tamir Rice case with the 12-year-old boy, that tragedy in Cleveland. So this is not the end, but this is the beginning of what I think is a broader conversation and a great deal of concern. We do need to heal the nation and build trust. But the core of this
is that the justice system has to do a better job in these types of cases.
BLITZER: Congressman Clay, do you think justice has been served in the Garner case?
REP. WILLIAM LACY CLAY (D), MISSOURI: Not at all, Wolf.
And Marc is absolutely correct. When it comes to police policing the police, in this case the Eric Garner case, and in Ferguson, the Michael Brown case, police should not be the ones doing the primary investigation.
Prosecutors who work very closely on a daily basis with police should not be the ones prosecuting in these instances. There needs to be some outside party, maybe a civilian review board or in conjunction with police or some other setup that that actually delivers justice for Americans.
And, in this instance, Wolf, it's indicative that black lives don't count as much as other American lives. And I don't buy into that. And no one in this country should. And we should live under one system of laws, and not this imbalanced system of justice that we have witnessed over the last week.
BLITZER: Congressman Clay, in our system of law and order, if you will, if a crime has been committed, the police investigate and the prosecutors prosecute, right?
CLAY: Except, in these two cases, the perpetrators were police officers. So when you have police investigating other brothers, that is a problem, because it attacks their integrity. And so, therefore, we need to set up a better system to investigate these types of crimes.
BLITZER: What about that, Marc Morial?
MORIAL: Let me offer this, Wolf.
In the case of Darren Wilson in Ferguson, there is now a federal civil rights investigation being carried out by the Justice Department. In the case of Eric Garner, many of us have called for a federal investigation. And I think the policy change we need is when these cases arise, I think the local DA should step aside and allow the federal government, the Department of Justice, to carry out the investigation at first instance.
People say, why? Well, the federal prosecutors do not stand down in the cases of police -- in the cases of political corruption. They don't stand down in the cases of securities fraud. And I think to some extent, these DAs may be too close to the police and work more closely with the police, and that prevents them from really conducting what I would call a fair, impartial and independent review when these types of cases occur.
So we have got to look at a policy change in this instance because of the pattern that we're seeing in America today.
BLITZER: You may not have heard, Marc Morial, but we have been reporting that very soon Attorney General Eric Holder is going to announce a separate federal investigation into what has happened in New York City in connection with the Eric Garner case, just as the Justice Department is engaged in a separate investigation in Ferguson, Missouri, especially now that there's been no indictment there either.
Congressman Clay, if there's a really high bar, if there's going to be an indictment of the police officer in New York or in Ferguson, for that matter, on civil rights charges by the federal government, that's not an easy threshold to meet.
CLAY: No, it's not.
But I do have confidence that the federal investigation can refute the facts as presented by Bob McCulloch, the local prosecutor. It's apparent that there was an irregular proceeding of the grand jury, as he really flipped the script, Wolf, by taking the state witnesses and questioning their credibility, while defending the police officer.
And that is not how grand juries function normally. And so I have a lot more confidence that the federal investigation will bring out the facts and it will be far different than the facts that were presented by Mr. McCulloch last week.
BLITZER: He's the Saint Louis county prosecutor.
Go ahead, Marc Morial.
MORIAL: Wolf, I remind all the viewers in the case of Rodney King, this was a federal investigation, indictment and successful prosecution after the state court proceedings failed.
In the case of Abner Louima, another case here in New York, you had the very same thing, a federal investigation, which was successful in securing convictions of police officers after the state proceedings failed. And in the Danziger king case -- Danziger Bridge case in New Orleans, a federal prosecution took place by the Justice Department under Eric Holder which led to a conviction. That case is certainly on appeal before the U.S. Fifth Circuit.
But there is a pattern of the Department of justice being successful, not withstanding the high bar that many have talked about. So I think people, we all should respect, and I certainly believe the attorney general is doing the absolute right thing by conducting these separate and independent investigations.
And it's consistent with what the Justice Department has done in the past where state systems do not seem to be able to or unwilling to bring about justice.
BLITZER: All right, we're going to ask Marc Morial to stand by. He's the president and CEO of the National Urban League. Congressman Lacy Clay is going to stay with us.
These are live pictures we're showing our viewers right -- not too far away from Times Square. Looks like the marchers, the protesters have been stopped from moving forward. It looked like they were moving forward, according to our reporter Yon Pomrenze, towards the Rockefeller Center, where the lighting of the Christmas tree supposed to take place pretty soon.
But it looks like they have been stopped from moving forward. We will check back what's happening on the streets of New York. Stay with us. Much more on the breaking news right after this.
BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news.
Protests now in New York City after a controversial grand jury decision in another racially charged police case. A white police officer is not being indicted in the chokehold death of an African- American man.
Let's check back in with CNN's Yon Pomrenze, who is monitoring all the protests for us.
Yon, where are you guys right now? What's the latest?
POMRENZE: Hi, Wolf. We are on Sixth Avenue moving north. We're at about 51st Street now.
The group came from Times Square, stopped at 50th Street, which is right by Radio City Music Hall. It's right down the block from where that iconic tree lighting ceremony is supposed to happen tonight.
There were chants of shut it down, shut it down. There were people who were calling for the ceremony to stop. The police are in the street, there are barricades up here. They're not letting people across the street.
And no one tried to rush the barricades. No one has tried to get over now. So the crowd, after stopping there for a while, has continued to move forward. This is right here in Midtown. There are shoppers and there are tourists who have come here for the candle lighting. It is potentially a big mess.
We have people here behind the barricades, people trying to get across the street. Obviously they cannot, because the protesters are continuing to move north in Midtown -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We will check back in with you, Yon Pomrenze, on the streets of Manhattan. Thanks very much.
Let's bring back the National Urban League president, Marc Morial. He's in New York. He's joining us, along with Missouri Congressman Lacy Clay.
Once again, thanks to both of you for joining us. Congressman, President Obama, you heard him other day announcing more
funding for body cameras, more training. But this incident in New York, it was all captured on video. Still, the grand jury, 23 members of the grand jury, decided not to indict. So what does that say about the value of videotape?
CLAY: Well, that's the -- the thing that really just amazed me is that you do have video and audio evidence.
And this grand jury couldn't bring themselves to bring any charges at all on a group of police officers that, from the evidence, suggests they pretty much jumped on this guy and beat him to death. And so it's dismaying to me that the grand jury couldn't bring back any charge.
And it's disappointing, which talks about -- which talks to the fact that some Americans still don't believe that black lives are worth the same as other Americans' lives.
BLITZER: Either that, Marc Morial, or there's still a really, really high bar if you're going to indict a police officer who is working in the line of duty. You really have to be 100 percent convinced that that police officer committed a crime.
MORIAL: And, you know, if that's the standard that's being applied, that's the wrong standard.
The only standard for a grand jury to consider is whether there's probable cause to believe that a law has been violated. It's up to a petit jury, a full trial on the merits, with the opportunity to present witnesses and cross-examine witnesses, that determines the fact of what happened.
And think that if we have a system in America where a police officer is afforded absolute discretion, and that you have got to be 100 percent sure, then that means that the system is not working in a fair way. This case, as I said, defies this commonsense standard, because anyone and everyone -- and you're replaying the video a number of times.
This is why body cameras and dash cameras are part of the solution, but not the total solution, because, as you mentioned, in this case, we see it, obviously, and we think, we presume the grand jury saw this videotape, yet failed to indict.
But I also question the actions of the prosecutor. I think we need to delve into what the prosecutor did vis-a-vis the grand jury. Did he, as we understand, do as Mr. McCulloch did, and in effect not make a recommendation, not demonstrate any leadership towards the grand jury in so far as a recommendation for an indictment is concerned?
If that's the case, I would venture to say that these prosecutors may be committing prosecutorial malpractice, Wolf. And that is treating these cases differently than they would treat any other case that they may investigate and present to grand juries any other day of the week, any other month of the year in a normal course of operations of a state prosecutor's office.
BLITZER: Marc Morial is the former mayor of New Orleans. He's now the president and CEO of the National Urban League. Thanks very much for joining us.
MORIAL: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Congressman Lacy Clay, thanks to you for joining us as well.
CLAY: Thank you for having me.
BLITZER: And we're going to have much more on the breaking news coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, get a different perspective.
Republican Congressman Peter King of New York, he is standing by live.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news in New York City. No charges for a white New York City police officer accused in the choke hold death of an African-American man.
Let's bring back our panel. Joining us, our CNN anchor, Don Lemon. The St. Louis community activist John Gaskin. He's been very active in the Michael Brown case, as well as the issue of police use of force. Also with us, our legal analyst Sunny Hostin and our law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes. Guys, thank you very much for joining us.
Does it make any difference, Tom -- and we did some checking on both Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer involved, and Eric Garner, who is unfortunately dead right now. Garner, presumably those police officers, although may have known this, a lengthy criminal history, 30 arrests; had been arrested for selling untaxed cigarettes back in May of this year. He was arrested now, allegedly, for selling untaxed cigarettes. Should that play any role in what happened to him?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: The only thing that shows, Wolf, is that he was arrested 30 times and lived to tell about it, because apparently, he went along with the police and went to the police station.
In this case, for whatever, we don't know how long that discussion went on with the police. When we talk about body cameras, for example, you have four officers on the street arguing with him to be arrested, to go into custody, and he doesn't comply. We don't know how long that discussion goes or the debate.
So the next question is, do the officers just say, "Well, sorry we bothered you, go about your business" and leave? Because the next step is going to be put hands on him and physically wrestle.
BLITZER: Sunny, is that information normally made available to a grand jury, the criminal record, shall we say, of the dead individual, in this particular case Eric Garner? Also, the complaints, there are two lawsuits that have previously been
filed against the police officer, Daniel Pantaleo. One of the -- both of the plaintiffs, both suits, they allege false arrests, unlawful imprisonment, civil rights violations, other charges. One of the suits, from 2013, was dismissed in January of this year. The second suit, from February of this year, remains open. Is that kind of information, Sunny, normally made available to members of a grand jury?
SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it depends if it's relevant, quite frankly, Wolf. And the fact that Eric Garner was arrested, you know, over 30 times, we don't know what those arrests were for, all of those arrests. It matters whether or not it was relevant.
Did these officers know him in the community? Did they know him to be violent? Were the other arrests -- what were those other arrests for?
But we know that this Officer Pantaleo did testify in front of the grand jury for over two hours. I would think, then, that before the grand jury should have been the fact that twice he was sued civilly for civil rights infractions. One of those cases, filed in 2012, was settled, and the city paid out $30,000. There's still another case open.
So if you have that kind of witness testifying in front of the grand jury, the person that is the target of the grand jury investigation, I would think that that information in and of itself is very relevant and should have been presented to the grand jury.
BLITZER: Don, led me read to you the statement that the police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, put out after the grand jury decision today not to go ahead and indict him. "I became a police officer to help people and to protect those who can't protect themselves. It is never my intention to harm anyone, and I feel very bad about the death of Mr. Garner."
When you hear about all of this, what goes through your mind, Don? You're there in New York City.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Uh-huh. It's sad. And again, as I said, of course, this is racial, but even if you take race out of it, and that's the thing, even if you take race out of it, this is a case of excessive force. I mean, your eyes don't lie. You're looking at the video.
And so now you take all of the people who have complained about excessive force by police officers, you put it back into the equation. Most of them are African-American in the city.
Wolf, I sat here in this very seat yesterday, and I told you. You said, you know, "Do you think if the officer's not indicted in New York City, will there be rioting? What will happen?"
And I said, "I don't know about the rioting," but that New York City would treat this differently. If you look at how Mayor de Blasio handled this, if you look at how the governor is handling this, they're not tone deaf to this situation. They get it.
If the people in Ferguson had done the same thing, they may not have had those riots. The mayor saying, "We understand this doesn't come from days of racism or years of racism or decades of racism. This comes from centuries of racism that we need to deal with these practices."
The governor of New York sending out a statement ending by saying, "My thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Garner's family and friends. As they continue to grieve during this thing, I stand with the Garner family and urge those wishing to voice their opposition to today's ruling to do so peacefully."
That's how you do it. Even if you don't agree with the ruling, however you feel about it, the best way to protest it if you don't agree is to do it peacefully. And the mayor saying the same thing.
And we've been talking about the mayor. He said the mayor has a black son. He doesn't only just have a black son. He's got a black wife, and he's got a black daughter. And so he feels this particular situation, because he has children, and he understands the pressures that those children are under and his wife, as a matter of fact, when they go out into the streets of New York City. This will be handled much differently than in Ferguson.
And I think people around the country, cities and municipalities around the country, should take a lesson how New York has just handled this. If you don't agree with it, I'm sure this will be dealt with. The mayor promises to deal with it. He's promising that the police department will deal with it and the commissioner, Bill Bratton, will deal with this. This a lesson for Ferguson and St. Louis and the state of Missouri on how you deal with this.
BLITZER: Let me get John Gaskin, who's there in Missouri to react. Obviously, clear differences between the reaction we're seeing in New York in the aftermath of Eric Garner's death and the aftermath of the grand jury decision in New York not to go ahead and indict the police officer. Clear differences what's happening in New York than what we saw in Ferguson and St. Louis county, right, John?
JOHN GASKIN, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: Absolutely. You know, Wolf, with the situation with Michael Brown, the prosecutor's argument was that there were shaky witnesses. He was concerned regarding some of their testimony.
But with this, it's so different. This incident was caught on tape. America was able to be the eyewitnesses for this particular incident.
You know, the parallel between what Eric Garner yelled out 11 times appears to be so common, what African-Americans and black America are yelling out today, "I can't breathe." Black America can't breathe today when they think about the countless number of African-Americans that have killed every 28 days by law enforcement.
You know, it comes to mind, Emmett Till, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Mike Brown. Just really a week ago, this really, from my generation, Wolf, really brings into question the viability, the confidence, the low level of confidence in the criminal justice system.
You know, we think back to George Zimmerman. So many people prayed for a conviction. And now people in my generation are even praying that there is even an indictment when it comes to law enforcement being held accountable for excessive force.
You know, I'm almost speechless when it comes to this. I'm astonished, and this is just really a sad day for America, especially for our criminal justice system, Wolf.
BLITZER: Sunny, could the district attorney in New York seek an indictment from another grand jury, or is it too late for that?
HOSTIN: You know, a special prosecutor certainly could seek an indictment. Yes, you can impanel another grand jury and present additional evidence. That does happen sometimes. I suspect, sadly, in this case that will not happen.
I do think, though, when you hear that the Justice Department is investigating, that that could be an avenue. We have seen very successful federal investigations, and then prosecutions after unsuccessful state action. We've seen it with Rodney King. We've seen it Abner Louima. We've seen it over and over again.
So we know that Loretta Lynch is the U.S. attorney for the eastern district of New York. We know that our attorney general, Eric Holder, has made it clear that there is an ongoing investigation. And I think that is where this case is headed. I think it's headed to the federal level. I don't think that New York will deal with it anymore.
BLITZER: All right, Sunny, thanks very much. Sunny Hostin, Tom Fuentes, Don Lemon, John Gaskin, excellent panel, as usual.
Just ahead, more reaction to today's decision and the ongoing protests in New York City right now. There he is, Republican Congressman Peter King. He's from New York. We're going to get his analysis, his assessment, his reaction to what's going on.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news in New York. No charges for a white New York City police officer accused in the chokehold death of an African-American man. The grand jury's decision sparking some demonstrations in New York City. We've got some new video, pictures coming in from Grand Central Station in New York. People are lying down. They're calling it a "die in." You can see that still photo there at Grand Central Station in Manhattan.
Let's get a different perspective. Republican Congressman Peter King of New York is joining us. Congressman, thanks very much for joining us. What's your reaction to the grand jury decision today?
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: First of all, the death was tragic and our hearts go out to the Garner family. Having said that, I do not believe - I feel strongly that police officer should not have been indicted. I've been following this case from the start. You had a 350- pound person who was resisting arrest. The police were trying to bring him down as quickly as possible. If he had not had asthma and a heart condition and was so obese, he almost definitely would not have from this. The police had no reason to know that he was in serious condition.
I know people are saying that he said 11 times or seven times "I can't breathe." Well, the fact is if you can't breathe, you can't talk. And if you've ever seen anyone locked up, resisting arrest, and I've seen, it's been white guys, and they're always saying, like you're breaking my arm, you're choking me, you're doing this.
So, police see that all the time. They, in this case, a chokehold was not illegal. It is against department regulations, but as you look carefully, I don't think it was an intent to put him in a chokehold, because he does move the baton as he brings him down.
Also, people are saying very casually this was done out of racial motives or violation of civil rights. There's not a hint there that anyone used any racial epithet. And also, what's not mention is, the senior officer on the spot who was there at the location was an African-American female sergeant. So, I don't know where the racial angle comes in. I have no doubt if that was 350-pound white guy, he would have been treated the same.
The reason the police were there is Tompkinsville is primarily a minority area. The local business people were complaining about Garner who was constantly selling cigarettes outside their establishments and he was creating a problem in the neighborhood. It was at the request of the community, the people in that minority community who went to police headquarters and wanted the police out there to remove him.
So, this was not any attempt by the cops to harass some guy selling cigarettes. It was a request of the community that it be done. This was a minority community, and it was struggling business people trying to make a living.
BLITZER: Chokeholds, I'm told, they are banned by the New York City Police Department, Congressman. So, I guess a lot of the question is, why isn't the police officer in this particular case, Daniel Pantaleo, being held accountable if in fact he did engage in that chokehold?
KING: First of all, it's not illegal, it's against departmental policy. So, that, it's nothing to do with committing a crime. Secondly, there's a debate whether that was a chokehold because he do not seem to sustain the baton at the Adam's apple, and as he's bringing him down, it moved to the right.
And again, I don't think there's any indication that they intended to choke him, that that was intentional. You have a 350-pound guy who is resisting, and he's six or seven inches taller than you, you try to grab him where you can and bring him down. When he was on the ground, I just heard somebody before said they beat him. Nobody punched him, nobody kicked him. They tried to get his hands behind his back and a hand cuff.
You talk to any cop, the toughest thing to do is cuff someone that doesn't want to be handcuffed. So, to me, remember, they didn't know this was being videoed. Yet, there's no individual of racial remarks, there's no attempt to kick of punch him. All they tried to do was cuff him. And to do that, you have to subdue someone and hold them quiet.
BLITZER: Because the allegation is that he was selling cigarettes without tax. That's a relatively -- that's a pretty minor crime. So the question is, was it excessive force to go and try to apprehend him with all these police officers surrounding him and using that kind of force?
KING: First of all, he wasn't going to go. Once the police try to arrest someone and they resist, you have to arrest him. You can't have a community see someone being able to walk away from an arrest. The cops have to establish themselves.
And again, this was -- they were there at the request of the minority business owners in the community who felt this man was interfering with their business. So, they were there serving a purpose for the local community.
And again, he was resisting arrest. Once he started resist arrest, they had no choice but to try to bring him down. I don't think there's any evidence at all, any indication that they wanted to choke him or they wanted to kill him or cause any severe harm at all.
BLITZER: Is it appropriate that Eric Holder, the attorney general of the United States, is about to formally announce a federal Justice Department investigation into what happened?
KING: I don't see how there's any civil rights violation here. I think it should be kept in mind, Wolf, that no one has done more to save the lives of young African-Americans than the NYPD. There are thousands of young African-Americans alive today because white and black police officers put their lives on the line every day, going into the toughest neighborhoods to protect them.
It's been -- again, in the last 20 years, there's been a 70 percent, 80 percent reduction in murders, and the overwhelming majority of those murders have been committed against African-Americans. That's been reduced, and that should be brought out and made clear.
The greatest beneficiaries of the NYPD are the African-American community. And President Obama, if he's serious about trying to bring racial peace to this country, the last thing he should be doing is having Al Sharpton sit in the White House. When he says that people in the African-American community don't trust the police, one of the reasons is because agitators like Al Sharpton are constantly criticizing and attacking and denouncing the police before he has any idea what the facts are.
BLITZER: All right. Peter King, the congressman from New York, the son of a police officer, himself grew up in New York, so it's obviously a subject that hits right at home to this United States congressman -- thanks very much for joining us.
KING: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: When we come back, we're going to hear from the president of the United States. What did he say today about this grand jury decision in New York? >
BLITZER: Take a look at this. These are live pictures coming in from New York City right now. Protests in New York after a grand jury decided not to indict a white police officer in a chokehold death of an African-American man.
President Obama addressed the controversy a little while ago, saying he's committed to making sure everybody believes that all of us here in the United States are equal under the law.
Our White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski is joining us now.
Michelle, what else did the president say.
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is an unexpected and a lengthy statement by the president today, speaking before some tribal leaders. And it was interesting. This wasn't an appeal for calm as we saw surrounding Ferguson. This wasn't an announcement of a federal investigation, although we heard the mayor of New York just now say he was told there would be a full investigation. Here's the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just got off the phone with my Attorney General Eric Holder. He will have specific comments about the case in New York, but I want everybody to know here and as well as everybody who may be viewing my remarks here today, we are not going to let up until we see a strengthening of the trust and a strengthening of the accountability that exists between our communities and our law enforcement.
And I say that as somebody who believes that law enforcement has an incredibly difficult job, that every man or woman in uniform are putting their lives at risk to protect us, that they have the right to come home just like we do from our jobs, that there is real crime out that they've got to tackle, day in and day out, but that they are only going to be able to do their job effectively if everybody has confidence in the system and right now, unfortunately, we are seeing too many instances where people do not have confidence that folks are being treated fairly. And in some cases, those may be misperceptions, but in some cases, that's a reality.
And it is incumbent upon all of us as Americans, regardless of race, region, faith, that we recognize this is an American problem and not just a black problem or a brown problem or a Native American problem, this is an American problem. When anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law, that's a problem, and it's my job as president to help solve it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KOSINSKI: OK. So, for now, the White House isn't commenting on the federal investigation into the case that we expect to be announced soon. But the president said that the federal government will continue to scrupulously investigate cases where there is a question of impartiality or accountability, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Michelle, thank you. Michelle Kosinski over at the White House.
Let's bring in CNN political commentator Van Jones.
Van, you used to advise the president in the White House. If he were asking you for some advice, what can he do to help solve -- resolve these kinds of very tense issues right now?
VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first of all, I just want to applaud the president and also Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio. They struck the right tone. You didn't see that happen in Ferguson. You did see it tonight.
One of the things I think the president needs to try to communicate people is that any system that does not have adequate checks and balances will tend toward corruption and abuse. That's not against the police. Why do we have meat inspectors? Not because we hate the butchers, we just know that you've got to oversee them and make sure they do a good job.
You have building inspectors, not because you hate construction workers, because somebody's got to police and make sure that any human system is being run properly.
There is something wrong with our law enforcement now where we expect police and prosecutors to police themselves with no good checks and balances. You can say what you want to about Mike Brown, this case is a case where you did not see somebody grabbing a gun, you did not see someone who was being violent back. You saw somebody that didn't want to go to jail but he was saying, "I can't breathe" 11 times and it was on video, and yet, the whole world saw it and still that is not a crime.
So, I think the president needs to make sure that the public understands, this is about making policing better. This is about strengthening policing. If you have a generation of young people and you look at the people out there protesting, mostly young people who begin to believe that we now have impunity, that law enforcement can be above the law, that the police don't have to obey the law, that is dangerous for any country.
And so, this was a shocking decision. I'm proud that those young people are out there, multi-racial, not just African-American, but African-American and white, peacefully tonight. I'm proud that our governor, mayor and president all spoke well. But this case I think shocked the conscious of a lot of people. And I'm proud the president spoke out.
BLITZER: The attorney general of the United States Eric Holder about to speak out himself. Announcing, presumably, there will be federal investigations into what happened in New York.
Very quickly, Van, what would you like him to say?
JONES: Well, he needs to be clear that there is a role for the federal government here. If you remember Rodney King back in '92, the local law enforcement tried to police itself and the jury came back out of Simi Valley and said fine with us. The Feds stepped in under George H.W. Bush and brought charges and got a conviction there.
And so, this is totally appropriate and he needs to explain the background, George H.W. Bush did it with Rodney King, and this administration should do it. If he explains that this is not some extraordinary act on the part of the presidency, on the part of the Department of Justice, this is normal. We have three levels of government. It is time for the feds to step in.
BLITZER: Van Jones. Thanks very much. We'll stand by to hear the attorney general of the United States.
In the meantime, that's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.