Democratic debate interrupted by protesters calling for firing of NYPD officer who killed Eric Garner

Dylan Stableford
Senior Writer

The opening statements at Wednesday’s Democratic presidential debate in Detroit were interrupted by demonstrators protesting the death of Eric Garner and NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose chokehold killed the 43-year-old black man in 2014.

During New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s opening remarks, the protesters began shouting, “Fire Pantaleo!”

The shouts grew louder a few moments later as Sen. Cory Booker spoke.

“Last week, the president of the United States attacked an American city, calling it a disgusting, rat-infested, rodent mess,” Booker began before the “Fire Pantaleo!” chant resumed. The New Jersey senator paused as CNN’s moderators Jake Tapper, Dana Bash and Don Lemon allowed security to remove the protesters.

Booker then finished his remarks without interruption.

Protesters were removed as Democratic presidential hopefuls delivered their opening remarks. (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Earlier this month, the Justice Department decided it would not bring federal civil rights charges against Pantaleo. De Blasio, who often invokes Garner on the campaign trail, has resisted calls to fire Pantaleo, saying he will await a separate administrative trial before determining his fate.

The de Blasio campaign did not immediately return a request seeking comment.

Booker, the former Newark mayor, has called for Pantaleo’s firing.

“This decision is wrong, unjust and painful reminder of just how broken our criminal justice system is,” he tweeted on July 16. “Eric Garner should be alive today. I pray his loved ones can find peace.”

After delivering his opening statement, Booker — or more likely a member of his campaign — tweeted about the incident.

“To the folks who were standing up to Mayor de Blasio a few minutes ago — good for you,” read a message from Booker’s Twitter feed. “That’s how change is made.”

Sen. Cory Booker delivering his opening statement. (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Later in the debate, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro raised the issue of Garner's death, criticizing de Blasio for failing to fire Pantaleo.

The New York City mayor vowed that justice would soon be served for the Garner family because “for the first time, we are not waiting on the federal Justice Department,” which overruled the city of New York’s recommendation in the civil matter.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said that was not enough.

“He should be fired,” the New York senator said, drawing applause. “He should be fired now.”

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