Melissa Mark-Viverito Won’t Say Race Was a Factor in Eric Garner’s Death

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. (Photo: NYC Council/William Alatriste)

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. (Photo: NYC Council/William Alatriste)

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito would not declare that race was the factor in the death of Eric Garner, echoing comments Police Commissioner Bill Bratton made yesterday.

“I’m very disturbed by what has happened. I am not going to draw any conclusions yet,” Ms. Mark-Viverito told the Observer at City Hall today. “Obviously, training has to happen as has been indicated. I believe that justice has to be served here. What we’ve seen in the videos is very clear and so I’m not going to go beyond that at this point.”

Ms. Mark-Viverito’s more tempered comments on Mr. Garner, a 43-year-old Staten Island man who died after police officers placed him in what appeared to be an illegal chokehold, were in stark contrast to what several elected officials charged at City Hall yesterday. Members of the council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, along with State Senator Bill Perkins, hinted much more strongly that the death of Mr. Garner, who was black, had at least some tie to his race.

“The murder by a New York City Police Officer—maybe not in blue, undercover, once again—has raised a question of racism. I cannot believe that if this brother was not black that a chokehold would have been used against him,” Mr. Perkins, a Harlem Democrat, said yesterday.

Councilwoman Inez Barron agreed with Mr. Perkins at the rally.

“It doesn’t happen to white folks. It happens to black folks,” Ms. Barron said. (Her husband, former Councilman Charles Barron, has called for Mr. Bratton’s resignation.)

The encounter between Mr. Garner and police was caught on videotape. Ms. Mark-Viverito, unlike Public Advocate Tish James, would not say that all encounters between the police and civilians should be videotaped, implying that the monetary costs of such an undertaking may be too great.

“It’s something that’s been an ongoing conversation,” she said. “In terms of taping every interaction, I mean that’s going to be have to be discussed more thoroughly. There’s obviously costs involved and it takes a lot of additional resources to be there.”

The speaker attended a vigil for Mr. Garner yesterday and said she will attend a wake for him tonight.