Linda Sarsour Explains How “Fire Pantaleo!” Spontaneously Erupted at the Dem Debate
Tuesday, August 6, 2019
SENATOR CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): We need a nation that understands that these tired, old language… the [crosstalk]
UNKNOWN: Fire Pantaleo! Fire Pantaleo! Fire Pantaleo! Fire Pantaleo! Fire Pantaleo!
SENATOR CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): The fact is… The fact is..
UNKNOWN: Three million deportations! Three million deportations! Three million deportations! Three million deportations!
MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network, I’m Marc Steiner. Good to have you with us. The most recent presidential democratic debate was faced with protests from the audience. Linda Sarsour, our guest today, who led along with Tamika Mallory one of those protests, was aimed at New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, chanting, “Fire Pantaleo.” This was the first major presidential debate where police accountability and reform became a major issue. The chant led to both Senator Booker and Secretary Julian Castro confronting de Blasio over what had happened, actually what didn’t happen, to the man who killed Eric Garner.
The second protest came from Movimiento Cosecha confronting Vice-President Biden and Obama’s deportations and calling for an end to all deportations. We’re joined today by Linda Sarsour, who has co-chaired the 2017 Women’s’ March, the 2017 Day Without Women, and a new 2019 Women’s March, and former Executive Director of the Arab American Association of New York. Linda Sarsour, Welcome. Good to have you back with us here at The Real News.
LINDA SARSOUR: Thank you for having me.
MARC STEINER: So tell us a bit of what led up to this, to your going in with Tamika Mallory and others to confront de Blasio during that debate. Tactically what you were thinking and then talk a bit about what happened.
LINDA SARSOUR: To be quite honest with you Marc, there was actually no tactic here. We weren’t really planning on debating anybody, or standing up or protesting. We were there the night before when Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were part of the debate. But when we heard our Mayor from New York City stand up in front of the country and claim to be a champion of police reform and talk about ending stop and frisk, it really bothered us. We felt that he misrepresented his positions.
In fact, Eric Garner when he was stopped by the NYPD, it was for stop and frisk. They said that, they claimed that he had loosie cigarettes and was selling loosie cigarettes. They tackled him to the ground, as you saw, and killed a man on video for all America and all the entire world to watch. And so for us, we were, as New Yorkers, we had a responsibility to the movements we were a part of, to Eric Garner’s family, to Erica who was a dear friend of mine and also as you know was one of the Bernie Sanders surrogates during the same year I was a Bernie Sanders surrogate in 2016, so we really had no other choice.
But what ended up happening is that people were confused about why you heard most of the chanting during the Cory Booker section – was because after we had already protested Bill de Blasio, we said “Fire Pantaleo” and we were quiet. All of a sudden the Detroit Police Department came into the venue and decided to drive us out, as you see from those photos. And so that was our moment to remind people why we were being dragged out and to chant again, “Fire Pantaleo” directed at Mayor de Blasio, but unfortunately during Cory Booker’s segment of the program.
MARC STEINER: So when the police came to take you out, so this was after you had stopped chanting—
LINDA SARSOUR: So Mayor De Blasio was the first person to go, as you remember. He spoke first. And there were multiple candidates afterwards that spoke. By the time they got to Cory Booker, there was at least four other candidates in between that had already spoken their first opening statement. And that’s when the Detroit Police Department came in and intimidated us. In fact one of the Detroit Police detectives came with handcuffs and said, “Listen, if you don’t get up right now, I’m arresting all of you in this arena.” And so, at that moment, Tamika Mallory stood up and said, “You cannot arrest only one of us, you have to arrest all of us.” And that’s when we were taken out of the venue. And it happened, again, during the Cory Booker section of the opening statements.
MARC STEINER: And then so, you were not there [with] Movimiento Coseccha. You weren’t part of that, but you just happened to both be there the same time, for different reasons.
LINDA SARSOUR: Absolutely. I mean, we know obviously Movimiento Coseccha for all their wonderful work that they’ve been doing for many years, in particular standing up to the Obama administration on deportations. So we know them from the movement work, but we were not coordinated. We had no idea that they were also going to do an action. We hope that we helped inspire it as we stood up and stood up to Mayor de Blasio.
MARC STEINER: So I was interested, Tamika Mallory tweeted out a lot of interesting things when this was happening. And as it happened, were you two actually arrested and taken to jail or just let out?
LINDA SARSOUR: No, so they threatened to arrest us and as we walked outside of the building, of the Fox Theater, there was another detective that came that was wearing civilian clothes who kind of waved the police officers down. He was like, “Look, just let them go.” And so they basically took us out of the security zone around the Fox Theater, which was about a two-block radius. So we were not officially arrested by the Detroit Police Department during this protest.
MARC STEINER: So let’s get to the heart of also what this might mean. The United States clearly is facing the possibility of four more years in 2020 of probably the most blatant, white supremacist, nationalist regime I’ve seen control this country in my lifetime, and I’ve been around a bit. I’ve been involved in politics most of my life. So, and then you have the Democratic party, which clearly is the organization that if anyone is going to beat Trump, it’ll be them. So talk about how this all plays into that for you. Let’s just start with what happened that day and what forced you all to yell Pantaleo’s name and to remember Eric Garner and the fact that he has not been prosecuted, he has not been fired from the department, the investigation is just beginning. So how does this play in? What’s the intersection here?
LINDA SARSOUR: The intersection here, Marc, if we do end up beating Trump in 2020, it won’t be at the hands of the Democratic Party. It will be at the hands of the movements that we are a part of. We are the grassroots organizers. We are the ones that turn out voters across the country. We are the people that are representing the interests of the most poor and marginalized people who continue to be left behind in any political campaign. Every four years the Democrats wake up and try to tell us who to vote for, when to vote for, but we’re the ones that are in our communities every single day that are organizing with people like Eric Garner’s family, Ramarley Graham’s family, families across this country who have lost their children to police and gun violence, to families who have been in deportation proceedings.
I was just at the border, last weekend with Reverend Barber, watching and being able to bear witness to the injustice of separating children from their families at the border. So for us, we need to be heard. We the movements are going to help to defeat Trump in 2020. As you know in New York City, we have been able to take out the independent Democratic coalition of the state legislature here. It is us that has helped bring in a new wave of progressive and true progressive Democrats, including what they call The Squad. This is based on our work and the work of organizers who have been doing this, some for centuries. I want the Democratic party to know they cannot marginalize us. They cannot say what we say doesn’t matter. We do matter. And our movements matter. And the communities we come from matter. And if we do win, it’s going to be at the hands of the people that we serve.
MARC STEINER: Let me I ask you another question that goes along with that, to kind of push this a little bit. But if you—And I think it was good that Officer Pantaleo’s name was called out in those debates because people need to understand exactly what’s going on here and the fact that de Blasio could have pushed for a hearing. He chose not to push for a hearing. He blamed it on the federal government, but really, he could done it anyway if he wanted to. And that’s an important point I think.
LINDA SARSOUR: Absolutely.
MARC STEINER: Right. But the other part is this, supposing, for argument’s sake, de Blasio or Biden or—It could be he’s the candidate in 2020. And they’re taking on this really, seriously racist regime that’s in charge of the Executive Branch at the moment, and building these courts that are full of young right-wingers who have no experience but just the ideology. What should be the stance of the people who are organizing communities? Is it to stand with Democrats at that moment to push out Trump and company? What are your thoughts about that?
LINDA SARSOUR: Listen Marc, for too long we’ve been told to fall in line, follow the Democrats everywhere. And what we’re saying is that what we’re doing in 2020 is harm reduction, which is why we will all support whoever the Democratic nominee is that emerges out of that DNC convention.
But just because we will support whoever that nominee is to reduce the harm that we have seen on Black people, poor people, LGBTQ people, Muslim people, and refugees, undocumented people, it doesn’t mean we’re not going to challenge the party that we are from. So we right now, the issue for us is this: How can you stand on a stage asking people to vote for you and say you want to be the President of the entire United States of America, but you cannot even do something simple and moral like fire a police officer who killed an innocent man on video for the whole world to watch? The New York Coroner said it was a homicide. Daniel Pantaleo, he literally violated the patrol guide. It is not my patrol guide, Marc. It is the NYPD’s Patrol Guide. A chokehold is a prohibited maneuver by police officers. So why in the hell would you have to wait for anybody to make the decision that you know is absolutely the right thing to do?
So my question to Mayor Bill de Blasio is why is this the mountain you want to die on? Why is Pantaleo more important to you than black people and black communities across the country who every day are mourning the death of their children, and their sons and daughters at the hands of police and gun violence?
MARC STEINER: That is a very powerful point. As we conclude here and get your final thoughts, to be fair to Bill de Blasio for a moment, he couldn’t actually fire, but he could have called the hearing that at this point might have led to his firing. But that didn’t even happen, right?
LINDA SARSOUR: Absolutely. I mean listen, at the end of the day here, the way it works in New York City is Mayor Bill de Blasio is the boss of the New York Police Department. He is the boss of the Commissioner and he does have the power to get the Commissioner to fire Daniel Pantaleo. He’s always had the power. He kept giving us excuse after excuse. He said he can’t do anything until the Department of Justice comes back with their ruling. And even if the Department of Justice comes back with the ruling, he doesn’t in fact have to abide by whatever their decision is that they have made. But now the NYPD’s own administrative judge has recommended the firing of Pantaleo. That was over a few days ago.
Why is this police officer still working for the police department? What I want Americans to know is this: not only does Daniel Pantaleo work for the police force. In the last five years since he killed Eric Garner, he has gotten a raise, he makes in the six figures, and also, New York City taxpayers are paying for private security detail outside of his house. I think it is absolutely outrageous that Daniel Pantaleo is costing New York City this kind of money. He’s a murderer, and he’s lucky that we’re only calling for his firing and not for him to be imprisoned.
MARC STEINER: And Linda Sarsour, thank you so much for your work and all you do. I look forward to talking to you a great deal more here on The Real News in the coming months. And see you down the struggle road somewhere. Good to have you with us.
LINDA SARSOUR: Thank you so much, Marc. I appreciate you. Thank you.
MARC STEINER: Thank you so much. And I hope that was enlightening. We found out what was underneath the protest and why they happened. We’ve been talking with Linda Sarsour. I’m Marc Steiner here at The Real News Network. Thank you all for joining us. Take care.