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“The Eric Garner Case’s Sickening Outcome”: When Being The Wrong Color Becomes A Capital Offense

I can’t breathe.

Those were Eric Garner’s last words, and today they apply to me. The decision by a Staten Island grand jury to not indict the police officer who killed him takes my breath away.

In the depressing reality series that should be called “No Country for Black Men,” this sick plot twist was shocking beyond belief. There should have been an indictment in the Ferguson case, in my view, but at least the events that led to Michael Brown’s killing were in dispute. Garner’s homicide was captured on video. We saw him being choked, heard him plead of his distress, watched as no attempt was made to revive him and his life slipped away.

This time, there were literally millions of eyewitnesses. Somebody tell me, just theoretically, how many does it take? Is there any number that would suffice? Or is this whole “equal justice before the law” thing just a cruel joke?

African American men are being taught a lesson about how this society values, or devalues, our lives. I’ve always said the notion that racism is a thing of the past was absurd — and that those who espoused the “post-racial” myth were either naive or disingenuous. Now, tragically, you see why.

Garner, 43, was an African American man. On July 17, he allegedly committed the heinous crime of selling individual cigarettes on the street. A group of New York City police officers approached and surrounded him. As seen in cellphone video footage recorded by an onlooker, Garner was puzzled that the officers seemed to be taking him into custody for such a piddling offense. He was a big man, but at no point did he strike out at the officers or show them disrespect.

But he wasn’t assuming a submissive posture as quickly as the cops wanted. Officer Daniel Pantaleo placed him in a chokehold, compressing his windpipe — a maneuver that the New York Police Department banned two decades ago. Garner complained repeatedly that he was having trouble breathing. The officers wrestled him to the sidewalk, where he died. An emergency medical crew was summoned, but officers made no immediate attempt to resuscitate him.

The coroner ruled Garner’s death a homicide. He suffered from asthma, and Pantaleo’s chokehold killed him.

The Staten Island prosecutor presented evidence against Pantaleo to a grand jury; the other officers involved in the incident were given immunity in exchange for their testimony. On Wednesday, it was announced that the grand jury had declined to indict Pantaleo on any charge.

This travesty — there’s no other word for it — came just nine days after a St. Louis County grand jury declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson for Brown’s death. Demonstrators took to the streets across Manhattan. What else was there to do but protest? Set aside the signs that say “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot.” Bring out the signs that say “I Can’t Breathe.”

There are two big issues here. One involves the excessive license we now give to police — permission, essentially, to do whatever they must to guarantee safe streets. The pendulum has clearly swung too far in the law-and-order direction, at the expense of liberty and justice.

As I wrote Tuesday, we are so inured to fatal shootings by police officers that we do not even make a serious effort to count them; the Brown case illustrated this numbness to the use of deadly force. Garner’s death is part of a different trend: The “broken windows” theory of policing, which holds that cracking down on minor, nuisance offenses — such as selling loose cigarettes — is key to reducing serious crime.

Police officers, whose brave work I honor and respect, are supposed to serve communities, not rule them.

The other big issue, inescapably, is race. The greatest injury of the Brown and Garner cases is that grand juries examined the evidence and decided there was no probable cause — a very low standard — to believe the officers did anything wrong. I find it impossible to believe this would be the result if the victims were white.

Garner didn’t even fit into the “young black male” category that defines this nation’s most feared and loathed citizens. He was an overweight, middle-age, asthmatic man. Now we’re told that the man who killed him did nothing wrong.

Eric Garner was engaged in an activity that warranted no more than a warning to move along. But I recognize that he also committed a capital offense: He was the wrong color.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 3, 2014

December 7, 2014 Posted by | Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Police Brutality | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Go For It, Mr. Speaker”: Eric Garner Offers Boehner A Path To Redemption

What does the death of Eric Garner, following a police chokehold, have to do with immigration? For House Speaker John Boehner, perhaps quite a lot.

Boehner has been trying to contain the Republican  reaction to President Barack Obama’s recent executive action on immigration. Boehner’s hopes of passing comprehensive immigration reform were dashed long ago. But he would still like to mute his conference’s most virulent anti-immigration voices — call it the Steve King caucus — to keep his party from becoming further identified with intolerance. (Thursday’s debate on the “Preventing Executive Overreach on Immigration Act of 2014,” a bill sponsored by Republican Representative Ted Yoho, won’t help. It essentially puts the party on record in favor of mass deportation. And the House passed it.)

Republicans are quick to mount the barricades against Obamacare or taxes on high incomes. When it comes to protesting injustice against the poor and marginalized, their reflexes can be unnervingly slow.

Senator Rand Paul shrewdly (and even bravely, despite some dissembling) has tried to shift perceptions that Republicans don’t care about racial minorities, speaking before black audiences and citing his belief,  however unreal, that the Republican coalition can bring in a substantial number of black voters in 2016. Confronted by the news of a grand jury’s refusal to bring charges against a police officer who put Garner in a chokehold, however, Paul whiffed. In effect, he focused his outrage on the supreme injustice of New York’s cigarette taxes rather than the loss of a man’s life in police custody.

Boehner’s reaction was both smarter and more humane. Asked about the grand jury decision, Boehner said, “The American people deserve more answers about what really happened here.” Significantly, Boehner also “hasn’t ruled out holding congressional hearings on the matter,” according to BuzzFeed.

Hearings chaired by Republicans would be good for the country and good for Republicans. They would establish precisely what protesters say they are fighting for: an assertion that “black lives matter” to the nation’s leaders and political institutions. At the same time, they would show that Republicans know how to be a party of all Americans, not just the white parts. And they would showcase Republicans grappling with a complex problem instead of unleashing the party demagogues on Benghazi for the umpteenth time.

The timing is auspicious. The Republicans’ aggressive turn against immigrants is highly unlikely to sit well with Hispanics and Asians. Black voters already shun the party by embarrassingly large margins.

It’s not all about political opportunism. Plenty of conservatives are genuinely appalled at the circumstances of Garner’s death. Thursday’s Department of Justice report on the Cleveland police department, released in the wake of a police officer’s fatal shooting of a 12-year-old boy there, underscores the need for a serious federal inquiry. Hearings would be good for everyone. Go for it, Mr. Speaker.

 

By: Francis Wilkinson, The National Memo, December 5, 2014

December 6, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Eric Garner, Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“What The Right Gets Wrong About Eric Garner’s Death”: Some Conservatives Would Like To Pretend This Isn’t About Race

The death of Eric Garner, and the decision by a grand jury not to indict the police officer who killed him, spawned bipartisan outrage, presenting a striking contrast to the party-line response that followed the non-indictment in the death of another unarmed black man, Michael Brown.

Unlike Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, there was no shred of ambiguity in the Garner case, which played out in the New York City borough of Staten Island. Video shows the officer placing Garner in an illegal choke hold, Garner gasping, “I can’t breathe,” and Garner collapsing. A coroner ruled the case a homicide. Garner’s only (alleged) crime: selling loose cigarettes on the street.

The immediate response on both the right and the left was one of disbelief and condemnation. Yet there was, and remains, a notable partisan split in parsing the Garner case. Though libertarians and conservatives are willing to acknowledge that his death was indeed a tragedy, many are unwilling to concede he died because of the color of his skin.

This is no small omission. Denying the racial implications of the Garner case absolves the need to address — or even recognize — the systemic victimization of black and brown people at the hands of the police in America. It is an exercise in magical thinking that fails to explain why, after adjusting for their share of the general population, blacks are 21 times more likely than whites to be shot dead by the police.

So how did the right frame Garner’s death?

New York Rep. Peter King claimed that police acted properly, and that Garner died only because he was “so obese.” Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) argued that taxes and politicians killed Garner, because they had “driven cigarettes underground by making them so expensive.”

“I do blame the politicians,” Paul said Wednesday evening on MSNBC. “We put our police in a difficult situation with bad laws.”

Others on the right echoed Paul’s race-blind interpretation: Big government killed Eric Garner. Some went so far as to say that the case underscored the liberal folly of entrusting government with ensuring public wellbeing.

There is truth to the argument that a pervasive police mentality of unchecked aggression played a role in Garner’s death. But that doesn’t tell the whole story, which is that the subjects of excessive force are disproportionately non-white.

White police officers killed on average 96 black people every year between 2006 and 2012, according to a USA Today analysis. And though blacks make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population, they comprised 32 percent of all felons killed by police in “justifiable homicides” in 2012, according to FBI data.

New York City adheres to this same pattern. White police officers are disproportionately likely to fire upon suspects, and blacks are disproportionately likely to be in the crosshairs, according to the city’s own data. In 2011, 85 percent of the people shot at by police were black or Hispanic, even though those demographics account for roughly half the city’s overall population.

An illuminating parallel to understanding the right’s strange response to Garner’s case is that of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who staged an armed standoff with the feds over grazing fees. Conservatives embraced Bundy’s crusade and exalted his threats of violent insurrection — at least until footage emerged of his racist ramblings. But that degree of hero worship has been non-existent in the right’s response to Garner, who, like Bundy, was targeted by law enforcement for alllegedly circumventing ostensibly oppressive taxation. As Peter Beinart put in The Atlantic, “Had Eric Garner been a rural white man with a cowboy hat killed by federal agents, instead of a large black man choked to death by the NYPD, his face would be on a Ted Cruz for President poster by now.”

There is an appalling, centuries-old tradition of whites ascribing superhuman powers to blacks. That trope was on full display in the testimony of officer Darren Wilson, who claimed self-defense in killing Michael Brown because his victim looked like a “demon” who was “bulking up” to run through a volley of gunfire. It was also on full display in the video of four police officers subduing Garner, one of whom felt the only way to handle an unarmed black man was to choke the life out of him. And it was on full display again in another video of cops and EMTs letting Garner lie prone on the sidewalk for minutes before carelessly dumping his body on a stretcher, like a slab of meat, as one of them quipped about his girth.

It is through this lens that the police response to Garner must be viewed. The conservative insistence otherwise is woefully, ignorantly incomplete.

 

By: Jon Terbush, The Week, December 5, 2014

December 6, 2014 Posted by | Eric Garner, NYPD, Racism | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Broken Windows Policing”: Eric Garner Was Choked To Death For Selling Loosies

The controversial deaths of African Americans Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in Staten Island at the hands of white police officers don’t just speak to racial divides and raise questions of discriminatory law enforcement in America.

In very different but related ways, they raise fundamental questions irrespective of race about how policing gets done. Unless we want to subject ourselves to endless repeats of similarly tragic events, we need to confront and work through both the militarization of police and commitments to so-called broken windows policing.

In August, Brown was shot and killed during a struggle with Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who was ultimately not indicted by a grand jury. Whatever else you can say about the case, it was the ham-fisted overreaction to protests by the Ferguson and St. Louis County police forces and the Missouri National Guard that catapulted the story to prominence. The Ferguson story captured the national conversation because it showcased the ubiquitous militarization of police that has been proceeding apace, often with the help of liberal politicians, during the past 40 or more years.

Indeed, just earlier this week, four members of the Congressional Black Caucus made a “hands up” gesture on the House floor to show solidarity with Brown and Ferguson protesters. Yet each of the members who raised their hands—Yvette Clarke, Al Green, Sheila Jackson Lee, and Hakeem Jeffries, liberal Democrats all—voted against “an amendment in June that would’ve limited the transfer of military equipment from the Department of Defense to local police agencies.”

Similarly, Garner’s death in July after being placed in a chokehold is not simply about race. It’s about community policing and the ability of top brass to enforce restrictions on beat cops’ behavior. As cell phone footage of the incident makes clear, the police approached the 43-year-old Garner after he had helped to break up a fight on a busy street in Staten Island. The cops were less interested in the fight than in asking Garner whether he was selling loose cigarettes or “loosies,” which is illegal. “Every time you see me, you wanna arrest me,” says Garner, who had a rap sheet for selling loosies and was in fact out on bail when confronted.

Footage of the incident shows New York Police Department Officer Daniel Pantaleo placing Garner in the chokehold that was the main cause of death according to the coroner, who further ruled the death a “homicide.” (Police at the scene initially claimed that the asthmatic, 350-pound Garner had suffered a heart attack). Like Wilson, Pantaleo was not indicted.

Why were the cops so hell-bent on stamping out the sales of loosies, which typically sell for 75 cents a pop in Staten Island (and two times or more that in Manhattan)? New York City boasts the highest cost for cigarettes in the nation, with a pack ranging anywhere from $12 and up. The city lays its own taxes on top of the state’s, in an effort both to raise revenue and discourage use of tobacco.

The result is a thriving market in sales of loosies and black-market cigarettes more generally (for a fascinating look of how the market in loosies operates, check out this 2007 study published by the National Institutes for Health). Since 2006, the tax on cigarettes in New York have risen 190 percent and cigarette smuggling has risen by 59 percent, writes Lawrence J. McQuillan of the Independent Institute. Whether it’s liquor, drugs, or cigarettes, when you try to stamp out something consenting adults want, you cause as many or more problems as you ameliorate.

Stretching back to the Rudy Giuliani years, the NYPD has been committed to “broken windows” policing, which focuses on stamping out misdemeanor offenses and “quality of life” issues such as graffiti that proponents say lead to more serious crime. “Murder and graffiti are two vastly different crimes,” Giuliani argued in the 1990s, “but they are part of the same continuum, and a climate that tolerates one is more likely to tolerate the other.”

Last January, the city passed stronger penalties for selling loosies and other illegal cigarettes and in early July, reports the Daily News. The NYPD’s Chief of Department, Philip Banks, specifically called for crackdowns on loosie sales in Staten Island. “Among the specific public complaints of illegal activity in that area included the sale of untaxed cigarettes as well as open (alcohol) container and marijuana use and sale offenses,” an NYPD spokesman told the News.

Police Commissioner William Bratton introduced broken windows policing to the NYPD when he was first hired by then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani in 1993, and he is continuing its use while serving under current Mayor Bill de Blasio. But just as the response to Ferguson protests raised questions about the sagacity of outfitting local cops with military grade weapons and gear, the death of Garner and other non-violent suspects is forcing a debate over broken windows. “I don’t think it’s a necessary police tactic,” City Councilman Andy King told the News. Councilwoman Inez Barron argued that “such enforcement ‘leads to confrontations like this [one].’”

As in most cases involving social science and broad cultural trends, supporters and critics of broken windows policing can marshal seemingly irrefutable evidence in favor of their position. There’s little question that New Yorkers support arrests for low-level offenses. A Quinnipiac Poll of New Yorkers in August found that 60 percent of respondents agreed that “when a cop enforces some low-level offense…it improve[s] quality of life.” Only 34 percent said it increased neighborhood tensions, with “very little difference among black and white voters.”

Yet clearly something has gone horribly wrong when a man lies dead after being confronted for selling cigarettes to willing buyers. Especially since, as even Bratton has acknowledged, the chokehold applied by the restraining officer is prohibited by the NYPD’s own rulebook. Does the commissioner really control his officers, and is it time to rethink nanny state policies that create flourishing underground markets?

The conversation over the militarization of police started by Ferguson is well under way and has already yielded real change: In the name of transparency, more police departments and the federal government are calling for the use of wearable body cameras that will at least capture parts of confrontations like the one that ended in Michael Brown’s death.

It’s past time to have that same sort of open conversation about broken windows policing. It’s safe to say that noboby thinks selling loosies is a capital offense, but if the police cause the death of a man they are taking into custody by using chokeholds, things get pretty murky very fast.

 

By: Nick Gillespie, The Daily Beast, December 3, 2014

December 6, 2014 Posted by | Criminal Justice System, Eric Garner, Police Brutality | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Everybody Just Loves Danny”: Meet Dan Donovan, The Prosecutor Who Let Eric Garner’s Killer Walk

New York City has one mayor, two other citywide elected officials, 10 borough-wide elected officials, 51 City Council members, several dozen state lawmakers, and a dozen members of Congress representing its 8 million people.

And nearly all have been mugging for the cameras in the hours after a grand jury declined to indict New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the strangulation of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who attracted police attention for selling single cigarettes.

All that is, except for Dan Donovan, the Staten Island district attorney who failed to win the indictment, and failed too to use the opportunity to get his face before the television cameras. Donovan, a four-term DA, is in many ways the anti-Bob McCulloch, the Ferguson, Missouri, district attorney, who used a similar moment to launch a prime-time diatribe against the media, social or otherwise.

Even those who have been leading protests against the verdict have praised Donovan.

“Personally, Dan Donovan and I are friends. I try to separate the job that he has done and our friendship,” said Debi Rose, a liberal city council member from Staten Island’s urban north shore. “In this particular instance, I find that because of the DA’s relationship with the police department, that outcome wasn’t surprising.”

To understand Donovan, and to understand how the Garner grand jury could reach the verdict, it is first necessary to understand something about Staten Island. Officially a borough of New York City, although it wants to deny it, Staten Island voted Republican in the 2013 mayor’s race, though Democrat Bill de Blasio won citywide by nearly 50 points. It is a place where its lone congressional representative, Michael Grimm, faces a 20-count indictment, threatened to throw a television reporter off a balcony, and still won re-election by ever larger numbers.

Donovan’s father was a longshoreman who struggled with alcoholism, and Donovan came up under the protection of the Island’s Republican machine. A one-time close friend of the now-disgraced former Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik, he was hired by longtime Island powerbroker and Borough President Guy Molinari to serve as his chief of staff, and when Molinari retired, handing the reins of the Island to protégé Jim Molinaro, Donovan stayed on, using the post to run for district attorney.

He had never prosecuted a case, and was not, he liked to say, a legal scholar, but Donovan has proved to be a natural politician in the mold of the backslapping Irish pols of yore, easily winning re-election on Staten Island. The most controversy he has gotten into his tenure came when he recused himself from a case involving Molinaro’s grandson, a teenager who violated his probation. Molinaro was furious, taking out a full-page ad in the Staten Island Advance accusing Donovan of abdicating his responsibility and of a “miscarriage of justice.” Most Islanders, however, saw it as a prosecutor refusing to bow to political winds.

In New York, district attorneys have a tendency to grow moss-bound in their roles. Robert Morgenthau, after all, retired at age 90. Donovan has shown some further ambition, running for attorney general in 2010 on a platform that in part promised to reverse the office’s focus on Wall Street that Andrew Cuomo and Eliot Spitzer brought to it.

“My goal is not to destroy people’s lives and disrupt entire industries because there are a few people in there that are corrupt.”

Donovan however proved to be a lackluster debater and an unenthusiastic campaigner, and an even more reticent fundraiser, relying heavily on the largesse of Mayor Mike Bloomberg and the support of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. At his concession speech, he told his staff to get ready to go work the next day.

Donovan had been privately concerned that running statewide would hurt his standing back home. Instead, the next year he won by 40 points.

And there are few people on Staten Island who see his presence diminishing in the wake of the Garner decision.

“He could have killed the guy himself and still would get re-elected,” said one Island Democrat. “Everybody just loves Danny. To them, the guy can do no wrong.”

There has been much talk in Island political circles that Donovan would run for Congress one day if Grimm is in fact forced to step down due to his legal troubles. Most politicos there, though, think that the way he handled the grand jury could only help him in a district with a substantial number of active or retired police officers.

“When the dust settles, I just don’t see it hurting him,” said Rich Flanagan, a professor of political science at the College of Staten Island. “This is no place for unreconstructed New York liberals.”

Molinari, the Island power-broker who launched Donovan’s career, agreed.

“[Garner] is saying ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,’ but how do you interpret that? They were trying to arrest him, he was resisting, and he is a big guy, so it took quite a few cops to do that, and a tragedy occurred. It can happen any place.”

 

By: David Freedlander, The Daily Beast, December 4, 2014

December 6, 2014 Posted by | Dan Donovan, Eric Garner, NYPD | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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