More than half of all Americans believe charges should have been brought against the white police officer involved in the “chokehold” death of unarmed black man Eric Garner, according to a new poll.
A total of 57% say the New York City grand jury that decided not to indict Daniel Panteleo was wrong in their decision, the USA Today/Pew Research Center poll found. Just over one in five (22%) said the grand jury was right not to indict.
The strong support for an indictment may be due to a video posted afterward showing Garner being held in what appeared to be an illegal chokehold during his arrest for selling loose cigarettes. In the video, Garner can be heard saying ‘I can’t breathe,” which has now become a rallying cry for those protesting the decision. Pantaleo has reportedly denied using an illegal maneuver to subdue Garner.
The poll’s findings stand in stark contrast to surveys regarding a similar grand jury decision in the Ferguson, Mo. killing of an unarmed black man, Michael Brown, by a white police officer. A Washington Post poll found that 48% of Americans approved of the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, while 45% said they disapproved.
Both deaths—and a series of other killings of black men by police officers over the past several months— have galvanized protests in much of the country, including demonstrations in Berkeley, Calif., New York, and Washington, D.C. In an interview that aired Monday on BET, President Obama called the protests “necessary” to bring change.
“Power concedes nothing without a fight, that’s true , but it’s also true that a country’s conscious has to be triggered by some inconvenience,” Obama said. “The value of peaceful protests, activism … is it reminds the society this is not yet done.”
The results of the USA Today poll are based on surveys of 1,507 Americans conducted between Dec. 3 and Dec. 7. The results from the total sample size has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.