US & Canada

Profile: Eric Garner

Eric Garner poses with his family on a day out in an undated photo Image copyright AP
Image caption Eric Garner posing with his family on a day out in an undated photo

Eric Garner had frequent run-ins with the police for years before his controversial death on 17 July while under restraint on a New York street.

After 30 prior arrests, when he was frequently accused of illegally selling single cigarettes, it seems he had had enough of what he personally regarded as police harassment.

"I'm tired of it," he said that afternoon as police accosted him again. "This stops today."

In the struggle to restrain him that followed, which was recorded as a video by an onlooker with a mobile phone, police officer Daniel Pantaleo kept his head held down despite his protestations that he could not breathe properly.

Mr Pantaleo's hold caused his death, the city medical examiner found in August. Then, in December, a grand jury decided the police officer should face no charges over the death.

The decision generated a wave of outrage across America, fuelled by suspicion that one standard of justice existed for white police officers like Mr Pantaleo and quite another for black men like Mr Garner.

'Big E'

The 43-year-old was African American and proud of it, to judge from what his heartbroken daughter Erica Snipes told the BBC.

"He had me watching Do The Right Thing and Malcolm X and Martin Luther King," she said. "He would be very proud of me," she added, wiping away tears.

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Media captionErica Snipes talks about the loss of her father

Some people who knew the father-of-six in the Staten Island borough of New York remember him as a peaceable, good-natured man, immediately striking because of his great girth.

"Big E", as he was known, stood at six foot three inches (1.9 m) and weighed 350 pounds (159 kg).

He had a son starting college, five other children and two grandchildren, and a 25-year relationship with his wife, Esaw.

He had held had a couple of temporary jobs with the city parks department in recent years, most recently helping with horticulture crews and maintenance last year.

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Media captionFootage of the arrest sparked national outrage - Nick Bryant reports

"Everyone loved Eric," local resident Graham told CNN. The two would chat occasionally as Graham practised his photography near the Staten Island Ferry, he said.

According to the Associated Press news agency, Mr Garner was "to his friends, a congenial giant with a generous gesture or a calming word".

To police he was also a suspected petty criminal, dealing in "loosies".

New York saw a boom in the illegal sale of these cheap, untaxed single cigarettes after the city's crackdown on smoking under the previous mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and recent rises in tobacco prices.

Mr Garner's arrests went back to 1988 on charges which also included drug possession and assault, police said. Outstanding cases against him included unlicensed driving and marijuana possession.

He accused police of harassing him, filing a complaint about a body search in 2007 and consulting Legal Aid more recently, the New York Times reports.

"He repeatedly told us that he felt he was targeted and harassed by the police, and he wasn't going to take any pleas," said Legal Aid lawyer Christopher Pisciotta.

'Indefensible'

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Eric Garner's widow Esaw

Mr Garner's health was extremely poor.

The "Teddy Bear" exterior could not conceal the fact that he could barely walk the length of a street without resting, friends told the New York Times.

One man who knew him said he would walk slowly on sore feet, sometimes untying his shoes to relieve the pressure.

Asthma, heart disease and obesity were contributing factors in his death, the city medical examiner recorded.

Why police had to restrain him as they did is the question that torments Mr Garner's loved ones.

"How can you defend what's on the video, basically?" his daughter Erica asked.