Protest Over Eric Garner’s Death Disrupts Democratic Debate

Protesters twice disrupted the Democratic presidential debate on Wednesday night, shouting from the packed crowd in the Fox Theater in Detroit with enough power to bring the candidates and the broadcast to a halt.

During the opening statements, a group of protesters interrupted Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey by chanting “Fire Pantaleo!” — a reference to Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who put Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold on Staten Island in 2014.

The death of Mr. Garner, which was caught on video and showed New York City police officers continuing to hold him down while he yelled “I can’t breathe,” prompted nationwide protests. This month, the Justice Department, led by Attorney General William P. Barr, ordered that the case against Officer Pantaleo be dropped.

Mr. Booker paused as the protesters continued to chant. They were eventually removed from the theater. Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, who had spoken just minutes earlier, and who has refused to fire Mr. Pantaleo, was not interrupted during his turn.

Later in the debate, Julián Castro, a former housing secretary and former mayor of San Antonio, invoked Mr. Garner’s death.

Mr. Castro said police officers needed to be held accountable for using excessive force. “That police officer should be off the street,” Mr. Castro said, referring to Officer Pantaleo.

Asked by a moderator why Officer Pantaleo was still on the police force, Mr. de Blasio said the Garner family was “going to get justice.”

“I have confidence in that, in the next 30 days in New York,” he added.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York also weighed in, saying it was clear-cut about Officer Pantaleo: “He should be fired. He should be fired now.”

On Twitter, Mr. Booker took a swipe at Mr. de Blasio and praised the protesters.

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

In a separate outburst, protesters from an immigrants’ rights group known as Movimiento Cosecha interrupted former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

While their chants were difficult to discern, the group has said that it is calling on Democratic candidates to commit to stopping all deportations on Day 1 in office.

Earlier on Wednesday, 21 people protesting the treatment of immigrants were arrested after shutting down Windsor Tunnel in Detroit. This year, the same group had a sit-in protest at Mr. Biden’s headquarters in Philadelphia.

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