Bratton on Eric Garner Death: ‘I Personally Don’t Think That Race Was a Factor’

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty)

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty)

Despite the assertions of elected officials who said Eric Garner would not have died in police custody if he were not a black man, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said he does not believe race played a role in the man’s death.

“I personally don’t think that race was a factor in the incident involved in this tragic death,” Mr. Bratton told the Observer Tuesday.

Mr. Bratton’s comments came after several elected officials at a City Hall rally, including State Senator Bill Perkins and Councilwoman Inez Barron, said Mr. Garner would not have been stopped and placed in a chokehold by NYPD officers if he were white.

“It doesn’t happen to white folks. It happens to black folks,” Ms. Barron observed at one point during the rally.

Mr. Garner, 43, of Staten Island, died after police used an apparent chokehold to take him to the ground during an arrest for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes in Staten Island. The encounter and its aftermath were caught on video by bystanders.

“Certainly the issue of race is one that’s first and foremost in this country, in so many ways, and it’s something that we cannot ignore,” Mr. Bratton said.

But that didn’t mean it was an issue in this particular case, he said.

“I don’t think the issue of race entered into this at all, based on the circumstances that I watched on that video,” he said.

The commissioner met with top police officials in the department’s training bureau Tuesday, before also meeting with community leaders on Staten Island at the office of Councilwoman Debi Rose. He said the department’s members will need re-training well beyond just the precinct at issue in Mr. Garner’s death.

“As I’ve reviewed that incident and I’ve reviewed the training in the department, it it is my belief that we’re going to have to do more than just a review of Staten Island,” he said.

Mr. Bratton said he’d order a “top-to-bottom review of all the training that this department provides to all of its personnel, specifically focusing on initially, use of force.”

Mr. Bratton said that training would help relations between communities and the police.

“Not only will we have cultural sensitivity, but that our officers will understand the importance of consistent policing — no matter whether the area is black, Asian Latino, white, it’s the consistency in the enforcement of the law,” he said.

And while some have pointed to the “broken windows” theory of policing — going after quality of life violations — as the next stop-and-frisk controversy, particularly given the nonviolent crime Mr. Garner was being arrested for, Mr. Bratton defended the policy.

But he said he wouldn’t measure its success in the number of arrests, but on whether crime goes down — pointing out that quality of life problems plaguing neighborhoods can be solved sometimes by asking someone to move along, or telling them what they are doing is illegal.

Officers should better understand the discretion they have, Mr. Bratton said, in determining whether to make an arrest.

“What I’m looking for is quality, not quantity,” he said.