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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

“A Collective Failure”: The Crisis Of Leadership And Confidence In Ferguson, Mo.

Michael Brown was shot and killed by Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9. The unarmed 18-year-old’s body laid in the street for more than four hours. Ever since that fateful Saturday afternoon, there have been protests about the way Brown was treated and the way African Americans in general have been treated in the St. Louis suburb. The most dramatic and revealing were those that erupted the evening of Aug. 13. Demonstrators were met with a militarized police force that lobbed tear gas at them, shot rubber bullets at them and arrested journalists. But in the chaotic nighttime scene three people were missing: Gov. Jay Nixon (D), Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III and Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson.

As their city and state and their police forces ran roughshod over the First Amendment rights of demonstrators with the entire world watching, those three public officials were nowhere to be seen. Their inexcusable absence that night, the lack of leadership it exposed and the subsequent bumbling efforts to show control might explain why there was so much hysteria leading up to tonight’s announcement that Wilson will not be charged in Brown’s death.

My view of their actions is certainly colored by my 16 years in New York City. Whenever anything big happened or was about to happen in the Big Apple or the Empire State (from snow storm to terrorist attack), you were guaranteed to see the mayor, the governor, the police commissioner and every relevant city and state commissioner squeezed behind a podium to give anxious New Yorkers an update. Both in word and presence, those public officials at least gave the impression that someone was in charge. Someone was accountable. Someone was speaking for them. Nixon, Knowles and Jackson (especially Jackson) have consistently failed that basic test of leadership.  The leaks from other local law enforcement agencies throughout the various investigations served to exacerbate tensions.

In the three months since Brown’s killing we have come to learn that their collective failures are just the tip of the iceberg of problems in Ferguson. My colleague Radley Balko reported extensively on how municipalities in St. Louis County, Mo., profit from poverty. “If you were tasked with designing a regional system of government guaranteed to produce racial conflict, anger, and resentment,” he wrote, “you’d be hard pressed to do better than St. Louis County.” The inherent mistrust of police, the grand jury process and the motives of elected and law enforcement officials that we have seen from blacks in Ferguson can be traced back to the Balko’s observation.

The Post’s Wesley Lowery is back on the ground in Ferguson just as he was on that tumultuous night in August. When I asked him whether Nixon, Knowles and Jackson had a local presence now that wasn’t being captured at the national level, his reply came quickly. “Not at all. There is no leadership from electeds on the ground. None,” he said, explaining his assessment came from “dozens of interviews” and his personal observations.  “This is a disenfranchised populace – they don’t vote for their elected leadership, and don’t feel represented by them, so why would they turn to them for leadership now?”

After his 20-minute presentation of the grand jury decision and the evidence supporting it, St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCollouch acknowledged that the killing of Brown opened old wounds and urged protesters to “continue the demonstrations, continue the discussions” to ensure this doesn’t happen again — soothing words from a public official that are of no comfort to a community that was hurting long before Wilson shot and killed Brown on a hot summer day.

 

By: Jonathan Capehart, Post-Partisan, The Washington Post, November 24, 2014

November 30, 2014 Posted by | Darren Wilson, Ferguson Missouri, Michael Brown | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How Darren Wilson Saw Michael Brown In Ferguson”: “Like It Was ‘Making Him Mad’ That I’m Shooting At Him”

After announcing that Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Michael Brown this summer, would not be indicted, Ferguson officials made available Mr. Wilson’s testimony. Here’s how he described shooting the unarmed teenager.

“As he is coming towards me, I tell, keep telling him to get on the ground, he doesn’t. I shoot a series of shots. I don’t know how many I shot, I just know I shot it.”

(Ed. note, he fired twelve shots total at Mr. Brown over the course of the incident.)

“I know I missed a couple, I don’t know how many, but I know I hit him at least once because I saw his body kind of jerk.”

He continued: “At this point I start backpedaling and again, I tell him get on the ground, get on the ground, he doesn’t. I shoot another round of shots. Again, I don’t recall how many [hit] him every time. I know at least once because he flinched again. At this point it looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him. And the face that he had was looking straight through me, like I wasn’t even there, I wasn’t even anything in his way.” (Emphasis mine.)

This description sounds like it was lifted from a comic book. Mr. Brown “looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots”?  That’s what happens when The Hulk faces a spray of bullets; not what happens when a human does. (On the other hand, it’s totally believable that Mr. Brown was “mad” at Mr. Wilson for shooting at him.)

Much has been made of the fact that Mr. Brown was 6-foot-4 and weighed roughly 290 pounds. Mr. Wilson, though, is not a small guy: He’s also 6-foot-4, and about 210 pounds.

But let’s give the officer the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say he was so genuinely scared that his fear distorted what was happening. Whether or not he committed a crime, as defined by a criminal justice system that tends to let cops off the hook, he shouldn’t be carrying a gun. Someone who can let fear get the better of him—who sees a teenager like a super-villain—shouldn’t have easy access to deadly force.

 

By: Juliet Lapidos, The Editorial Page Editors Blog, The New York Times, November 25, 2014

November 27, 2014 Posted by | Darren Wilson, Ferguson Missouri, Michael Brown | , , , , | 1 Comment

“Is This Just The Beginning?”: Raging Protesters Set Ferguson on Fire

It’s nearly impossible to capture the pain, frustration, and sadness in Ferguson following the announcement that a white cop will not be charged for shooting an unarmed black teen three months ago. But if the faces partially hidden by gas masks and bandanas are any indication, last night’s events can be summed up by one simple word: rage.

“I guess it’s legal for police to kill unarmed black men now,” said one woman, defiant but in despair.

For many of those gathered, the grand jury’s verdict didn’t even really matter—it was the expected outcome of a system that works against them. “We already know what they’ve decided,” said one man outside the Ferguson Police headquarters before St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch had approached the microphone.

A few optimistic souls had not yet given up hope. “It’s never happened, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen,” said one. But when the announcement came, there was no surprise: Officer Darren Wilson will not stand trial for killing a teenager.

The reaction of the crowd wasn’t a surprise either. It started with chants. Then taunts. A few water bottles tossed at police. Tear gas. Smoke. Random gunfire. Arson and looting.

They flipped a cop car and torched it not far from the police station; flames reflected in the glass of storefronts that hadn’t been boarded up in the downtown shopping district, which is dotted with “Welcome to Historic Ferguson” signs. They fled from tear-gas canisters hissing through the air underneath the words “Seasons Greetings” that joined white lights and garlands on street lamps.

The crowd began to chant: “We gonna burn the shit down.”

A few protected stores from fellow residents and one man pleaded tearfully as water bottles flew over his head at police, but a mob mentality took over on South Florissant. That was nothing compared to the utter destruction going on across town. There, on the strip of West Florissant, which is now so familiar to protesters and TV news viewers, the night sky was lit by an inferno. Several, in fact. A storage building became a ghostly concrete frame lit bright orange. A small fire in an auto parts store created explosions that quickly got out of control. Black smoke rolled through the front door and the entire structure was gone to Hell in minutes. Business owners swept up glass in front of their barber shop. Next door, a strip mall popped and hissed as unknown accelerants aided in its fiery destruction.

“This was probably worse than the worst night we ever had in August,” said Jon Belmar, chief of the St. Louis County Police Department, who claimed to have heard 150 gunshots.

In truth, the genesis of these scenes that shocked the country came three months ago when residents of the apartments on Canfield Drive saw Mike Brown lying motionless and bleeding while Ferguson’s cops looked on.

Anger rose through the summer, as the names of more victims added fuel to the fire; starting as Twitter hashtags and making their way on to signs and T-shirts worn by the protesters in Ferguson—VonDeritt Myers and Kajieme Powell. Eric Garner and Ezell Ford. Then last week, a 12-year-old in Cleveland shot dead for holding a toy gun. A 28-year-old gunned down in a dark, New York City hallway by a rookie cop who apparently made a fatal mistake.

They were all Mike Brown, said the protesters. “We are,” the chant goes, “Mike Brown.”

The chanting—so much a part of protests here for the past 100-plus days—was sporadic through Monday night. As looters roamed, you could hear a few of the refrains that have defined this situation, most notably “No justice, no peace.” The phrase took on a greater sense of immediacy as chaotic midnight approached, with the streets belonging mostly to whomever wanted to take them. For a while it seemed like the cops didn’t. The destruction appeared random; it’s impossible to tell why some businesses were spared and others were torched. Although in at least one instance, there was discussion of saving black-owned shops. The Ferguson Burger Bar—a favorite among protesters—was spared despite having never boarded up. Across the street, Ferguson Market and Liquor, the convenience store that was home to Brown’s alleged robbery, was again wide open to pillagers. The tear gas smoke that consumed West Florissant in August—a sign of police oppression for some—was replaced by black plumes coming from the burning businesses.

Protesters simply trashed the place. But I didn’t see any smiles. It was an unfiltered anger that drove them to bust windows and set the flames that would consume a recognizable portion of their community. For the most part, the police simply backed off. And with the streets filled with protesters, gunfire ringing out in the air, the situation was too dangerous for firefighters to do their job.

So Ferguson watched itself burn.

For the young man’s defenders, this country’s sins—past and present—are the reason for his death and subsequent slandering in the media. The loss of his life, and all the others from this summer, back to Trayvon and well before that, are part of a pattern. But for one young woman, who recognized her chance to give a passing quote, Brown’s death is indicative not of an ending, but the start of something. What that is remains unclear.

In front of an engulfed auto parts store, surrounded by mayhem, she shouted five words before disappearing into the crowd: “This is just the beginning.”

 

By: Justin Glawe, The Daily Beast, November 25, 2014

November 26, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Ferguson Missouri, Michael Brown | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Darren Wilson Saw ‘A Demon.’ What Do You See?”: Michael Brown Was A Very Human Being

“He looked up at me and had the most intense aggressive face.” That’s how police officer Darren Wilson described unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown. “The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon.”

Wilson’s testimony convinced the grand jurors and others that the officer was justified in shooting and killing Brown last summer in Ferguson, Mo. Yes, the citizens did a tough job admirably when confronted with mountains of material. But could they also have been affected by research that says black boys as young as 10 are seen as older and guiltier than their white peers?

In an August column “So, black teens who aren’t angels deserve whatever they get?” I wrote, “The shelf life for innocence is short when you are a black male — and there is no room for error.” You don’t get the second chance others might have after an incident of teenage rebellion, such as mouthing off to an authority figure or a more serious scrape. See any number of car-overturning, fire-burning melees after a big sports victory or loss for proof of a double standard.

The answer to the question I posed then has consequences for all Americans because Ferguson, Mo., is about more than one shooting in one town in Middle America. Whatever anyone thinks of the grand jury’s findings, “it” was not a “demon.” Michael Brown was a very human being.

 

By: Mary C. Curtis, She The People, The Washington Post, November 25, 2014

November 26, 2014 Posted by | Darren Wilson, Ferguson Missouri, Michael Brown | , , , , | Leave a comment

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