Associated Press

Hecklers Interrupt Dem Debate With Chants Of 'Fire Pantaleo'

August 01, 2019 - 7:21 am
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NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- Troubles at home followed Mayor Bill de Blasio to Detroit.

As the mayor ended his opening statement during Wednesday night's Democratic debate, and then again during New Jersey Senator Cory Booker's statement, the proceedings stopped when people in the crowd shouted, "Fire Pantaleo."

The hecklers were protesting de Blasio for not firing NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner on Staten Island.

He responded to the criticism saying, "I know the Garner family. They've gone through extraordinary pain. They are waiting for justice, and they're going to get justice. There's finally going to be justice."

“I have confidence in that - in the next 30 days in New York, you know why? Because for the first time we are not waiting on the federal Justice Department which told the city of New York that we could not proceed because the Justice Department was pursuing their prosecution,” de Blasio said. “And years went by and a lot of the pain accrued, and in the meantime, what I'm working on is making sure there will never be another tragedy. There will never be another Eric Garner, because we're changing fundamentally how we police."

The mayor then pointed a finger at front-runner Joe Biden, who was vice president at the time the case was brought to the U.S. attorney.

"The vice president for 2 1/2 of those years, Mr. Vice President, tell us what did you do to try and spur on the Justice Department to act in the Garner case?” the mayor asked.

Biden responded by saying, “Number one, we made sure we reduced the federal prison population by 38,000 people, number one. Number two, we in fact insisted that we change the roles that police engage in. We provided for body cameras. We made sure that there were a lot of things that were changed in the process - 38,000 people in the federal system were released under the system."

“And so the fact is, that there's a lot we've done, but here's the deal. The fact is that we're talking about things that occurred a long, long time ago, and now all of a sudden, you know — I find it fascinating, everybody’s talking about how terrible I am on these issues. Barack Obama knew exactly who I was. He had 10 lawyers do a background check on everything about me on civil rights and he chose me and he said it was the best decision he ever made. I’ll take his judgment,” Biden added.

Booker, who has criticized the Justice Department for not charging Pantaleo, had to wait for the chants of "Fire Pantaleo" to stop before he could finish his opening remarks.

While Booker was on stage his team tweeted, "To the folks who were standing up to Mayor de Blasio a few minutes ago—good for you. That’s how change is made.” 

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who was also on the stage, said Pantaleo should be fired immediately.

The hecklers were eventually escorted out of the debate.

Pantaleo has been on desk duty since Garner's death. He is awaiting the outcome of a recent departmental trial.