No decision seems to have defined the tenure of NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill more than firing of Daniel Pantaleo, the plain clothes officer captured on video putting his arm around the neck of Eric Garner as he repeatedly pleads, “I can’t breathe.” Garner’s death at the hands of police would become a flashpoint in the national uproar over police-community relations.
For police-reform advocates, the move was portrayed as the last opportunity for justice. The city’s 43rd police commissioner made a decision few NYPD leaders before him have been willing to make, firing a police officer who was absolved of a crime, but found guilty of violating department policy.
To the 36,000 officers he oversees, O’Neill’s decision was as an act of betrayal, that even the commissioner admitted he can understand: “If I were still a cop,” O’Neill said on the day he announced Pantaleo’s termination, “I would be mad at me.”
For O’Neill, who after 36 years in uniform was seen as a cop’s cop when he took the job, it was simply the right decision as the NYPD and police around the country try to mend relationships with communities they serve.
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