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Protesters interrupted both 2020 candidates Bill de Blasio and Cory Booker during the second night of the second round of Democratic primary debates Wednesday on CNN.
The first protester appeared after New York Mayor de Blasio said during his opening remarks, “It cannot go on this when I am president. We will even up the score, and we will tax the hell out of the wealthy.”
The heckler can be heard saying, “Fire Pantaleo!” in reference to active New York Police Department Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was accused of killing Eric Garner in what appeared to be a fatal chokehold that was caught on video in 2014.
De Blasio has spoken multiple times about the case and how it is personal to him as the father of a biracial son, The New York Times reported on July 17, but the mayor has never called for Pantaleo to be fired after a grand jury in Staten Island declined to indict him.
Protesters then repeated the phrase while New Jersey Sen. Booker was giving his opening statements, though Booker is not directly connected to the incident.
“To the folks who were standing up to Mayor de Blasio a few minutes ago — good for you. That’s how change is made. #DemDebate,” a post from Booker’s Twitter account read after the audience interrupted his remarks.
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) August 1, 2019
De Blasio campaign surrogate and New York state Sen. Luis Sepulveda, a Democrat, told The New York Post Wednesday, “I have no doubt that if due process permitted an immediate firing, I believe the mayor would have fired him immediately. But unfortunately, these are things he cannot do, legally.”
“I know his philosophy and his mindset,” Sepulveda continued. “I’ve been working with him for the last seven, eight years, and I’m pretty comfortable in saying that if he had the power to do [it] he would have fired him immediately.”
De Blasio said in a radio interview on Hot 97 in July that he and the city of New York were “following the law” and had “to give people due process.” He added that the “No. 1 way to honor Eric Garner is to make sure there isn’t another instance like this.”
Jumaane Williams, a public advocate for Garner, called on de Blasio to “do something, or don’t mention Eric Garner’s name ever again,” adding, “You cannot be president, you cannot be the Democratic nominee, if Daniel Pantaleo is still on the force,” according to The NYT.
Garner’s mother has told reporters that she hopes NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill will “do the right thing” and fire Pantaleo.
The incident sparked the phrase, “I can’t breathe” — Garner’s last words before he died that he repeated 11 times — which is frequently used by Black Lives Matter activists.
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