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The fireworks began early at tonight’s second round of the second Democratic presidential debate.
During opening remarks, the crowd erupted into chants when Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) was speaking. The hecklers got so loud that the moderators temporarily halted the proceedings.
Cory Booker's introduction is interrupted by a "Fire Pantaleo" chant. pic.twitter.com/3AqFKhZOkw— Contemptor (@TheContemptor) August 1, 2019
Turns out that they were shouting, “Fire Pantaleo” and were referring to Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer who killed Eric Garner with a chokehold in 2014, yet another incident of a white officer killing an unarmed Black civilian that in recent years sparked protests and public debate.
The heckling was actually directed at NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, who spoke prior to Booker and has been heavily criticized for not firing Pantaleo. (New York state Senator Luis Sepulveda recently said at a de Blasio event that “if due process permitted an immediate firing, I believe the mayor would have fired him immediately,” according to the New York Post.)
People were naturally confused because, last we checked, New York isn’t part of New Jersey.
Hecklers reportedly yelling "Fire Pantaleo," the Staten Island cop involved in the Eric Garner death, at Cory Booker, former mayor of Newark, which is in New Jersey. #DemDebate— S.E. Cupp (@secupp) August 1, 2019
Cory Booker’s opening statement is interrupted by chants of “Fire Pantaleo” — a reference to the cop involved in Eric Garner’s death. (Would’ve made more sense during Bill de Blasio's statement, but ok…)— Sabrina Siddiqui (@SabrinaSiddiqui) August 1, 2019
Fire Pantaleo. They’re NYC folk. That was for @BilldeBlasio— Jerónimo Saldaña (@JeronimoSaldana) August 1, 2019
Cory Booker interrupted by chants of “Fire Pantaleo!”— Joe Gomez (@JoeGomezNews) August 1, 2019
📌 Daniel Pantaleo is the NYPD officer who put Eric Garner in a chokehold, killing him.
📌 Booker blasted U.S. AG William Barr’s decision to overrule career prosecutors and not bring charges against Pantaleo. #DemDebate pic.twitter.com/gAmjlQG2C9
The demonstrators were shouting, "Fire Pantaleo," the NYPD cop who killed Eric Garner and is back on the force. Why they were yelling it at Cory Booker is beyond me.#CNNDebate— Charles P. Pierce (@CharlesPPierce) August 1, 2019
After the crowd quieted down, Booker recovered admirably and continued with his speech.
Later in the debate, de Blasio was asked about the case. He said that he knows the Garner family and they’ve been through a lot, that he has confidence that “in the next 30 days” the wheels of justice will begin to turn, and that the Justice Department told New York not to proceed
“There will never be another tragedy, there will never be another Eric Garner because we are changing fundamentally how we police,” de Blasio said, before turning to former Vice President Joe Biden to ask what he did to pursue justice for Garner.
But even more impressive, his social media team was quick to turn the moment into an opportunity and tweet support for the hecklers minutes after the interruption.
That is impressive social media.
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Claire Goforth is a Jacksonville, Florida-based journalist covering politics, culture, justice, and unicorns. Her work has appeared in publications ranging from regional alt-weeklies to Al Jazeera.