Police have the toughest job in the world and the NYC police department is doing an incredible job fighting crime and turning in lower and lower homicide figures. Generations of cops, many of them Irish, helped make NYC one of the safest big cities in America. Many gave their lives in doing so.
But the death of Eric Garner, who died of a heart attack this summer after police put him in a chokehold, is definitely not one of the NYPD’s proud moments. It smacks of a miscarriage of justice.
After yesterday’s grand jury decision not to press charges against the officer who put Garner in the chokehold, it seems amazing that there is not one aspect of his death police will have to answer for.
Unlike in the Michael Brown case, there are no conflicting testimonies, just a video we can watch with our own eyes. It shows a grossly overweight black man wrestled to the ground and choked to death for selling illegal cigarettes.
Garner, 43, was a father of six. He was selling untaxed cigarettes outside of a beauty supply store on Staten Island when he was confronted by police. Garner was perhaps a public nuisance but no more than the kind you will encounter any day of any race in New York, trying to make a hustling buck or two. Cops usually tell them to move along or ignore them.
That is the level of crime we are talking about here. To die for trying to sell illicit cigarettes is plain crazy.
What happened to Garner should never have occurred. The chokehold has been prohibited by the NYPD since 1993 and was an astonishing overkill – literally – by the cops involved.
Perhaps it is the video, but I find the case of Eric Garner even more compelling in terms of its evidence than what happened in Ferguson to Michael Brown.
It is clear from the tape that Garner represented no threat.
In other words, there was no justification for attacking Eric Garner the way he was attacked, or so it seems obvious from the video. It will be interesting to see how police accountability changes once the NYPD instates body cameras – in some precincts as soon as Friday.
I don't think Eric Garner’s was premeditated murder or anything like it, but the chokehold as the poor man gasped for breath and cried “I can’t breathe” was clearly an abuse of force, as was the piling on and pinning him to the ground.
One can understand the deep bitterness and hostility that members of the black community will have after this grand jury verdict coming so soon after Ferguson.
The issue of race hasn’t gone away despite the historic election of a black president.
Something very bad happened to two black men in St. Louis and Staten Island. Something very bad happened to Trayvon Martin in Florida, and his killer George Zimmerman has certainly shown his nasty side since then, even though he walked.
The plain fact is that even in Barack Obama’s America black men are still being treated very differently when it comes to suspected crimes.
Eric Garner was an especially bad case. He was no threat, was unarmed, yet ended up dead for a misdemeanor at best.
Police Chief William Bratton has a well-earned reputation for defusing tensions from previous posts in New York, Los Angeles and Boston.
He will need all his skills on this occasion. Another black man dead, another city in fear of riots and protests, but also of the police themselves.
Another reason to face facts that something has to change.
WARNING - this is the original video. Some viewers may find its content distressing: