The Democratic debate was disrupted by audience chants Wednesday night, starting during New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s opening remarks and continuing into the opening remarks by New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.
“Fire Pantaleo” voices from the audience shouted, referring to Staten Island police officer Daniel Pantaleo, who held Eric Garner in a chokehold in 2014 when Garner died. Officer Pantaleo is still currently employed by the New York Police Department.
CNN, who is hosting the debate, had the senator stop his remarks until the chanting stopped, but did not cut away to the audience.
Afterward, TheWrap’s Lindsey Ellefson spoke to civil rights activist Kirsten John Foy, one of the protesters inside Detroit’s Fox Theater where the debate was hosted. who said they were directed at Mayor de Blasio.
A surrogate for de Blasio said Wednesday that the mayor would have fired Pantaleo “immediately” if he could have.
“I have no doubt that if due process permitted an immediate firing, I believe the mayor would have fired him immediately,” Bronx Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda told The New York Post. “But unfortunately, these are things he cannot do, legally.”
“I know his philosophy and his mindset,” Sepulveda added. “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 is prohibited by law from firing a New York City police officer; that decision would lie entirely with the city’s Police Commissioner.
Minutes after the chant died down, Booker and de Blasio issued statements of support for the protests on Twitter.
“To the protestors in the audience today: I heard you. I saw you. I thank you,” de Blasio said. “This is what democracy looks like and no one said it was pretty. #DemDebate.”
“To the folks who were standing up to Mayor de Blasio a few minutes ago–good for you,” Booker said. “That’s how change is made. #DemDebate.”
Lindsey Ellefson contributed to this report.