The Justice Department is planning to conduct a federal investigation into the chokehold death of an unarmed black man after a New York City grand jury declined to indict the white police officer who performed the move, Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday.
The probe will look for a potential civil rights violation in the death of Eric Garner. Garner, 43, was confronted by police officers on July 17 on suspicion of selling loose cigarettes. A video shot by an onlooker shows a police officer getting Garner in what is alleged to be a chokehold and Garner repeatedly saying he could not breathe.
Holder said this is one of “several recent incidents that have tested the sense of trust that must exist between law enforcement and the communities they are charged to serve and protect.” Both cases have put law-enforcement officers under a microscope on how they use excessive force to arrests minorities.
House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday that he hasn’t ruled out holding congressional hearings on the circumstances surrounding the police killing of Eric Garner.
“The American people deserve more answers about what really happened here,” the Ohio Republican said, Buzzfeed reported. “And was our system of justice handled properly?”
So let’s assume Pantaleo did not use deadly force. That still leaves open the question at the heart of the matter: Was the force that he did use reasonable under the circumstances? This is why I think the debate over the chokehold is mainly an academic diversion. The salient issue is reasonableness. Even if we assume that a banned chokehold was not used, it is still entirely possible that the forcible tactics Pantaleo did employ were excessive…
Here, bear in mind that murder was not the only potential homicide charge at issue. The grand jury would also have been considering such offenses as involuntary manslaughter (i.e., recklessly causing the death of another person) or criminally negligent homicide. To be criminally culpable, the officer need not have intended to kill or even seriously injure Garner. If there is probable cause that Pantaleo acted recklessly or with criminal negligence — i.e., if he acted with an unreasonable degree of force — an indictment for a grade of criminal homicide less serious than murder would be the appropriate result…
[W]e all know there is a line, and police sometimes cross it. You don’t have to buy the race-obsessed demagoguery about white cops’ having it in for black men to acknowledge this.
I don’t think race had anything to do with what happened between Eric Garner and the police. I intend to keep an open mind until we learn all the evidence the grand jury relied on. And I continue to believe the NYPD is the best police force there is. But I also know, as good cops know, that there is a difference between resisting arrest by not cooperating, as Garner was doing in Staten Island, and resisting arrest by violent assaults and threats of harm, as Michael Brown did in Ferguson. Police deserve a very wide berth in responding to the latter, but less of one with the former. I thus cannot in good conscience say there was insufficient probable cause to indict Officer Pantaleo for involuntary manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide.
He was being told he wasn’t gonna be arrested, yet he continued, Garner continued to resist. So what do you do? Pepper spray, Taser. Given officer training, I don’t know what you do at that point. They’re telling him he’s not gonna be arrested, but he continues to fight ’em and resist and all this, and then he gets descended on by an increasing number of cops. The cops can’t walk away. Remember, the cops had been summoned by a minority-owned business complaining this guy was hurting his business…
Now, this man, Garner, had been arrested at least 31 times before. He was on parole from a previous charge of selling cigarettes. He should have known the drill, but he kept fighting back. He told the cops, “This ends now.” Apparently he’d been fed up with what he thought was police harassment, and he had had enough of it, and he said, “This ends now.” I remember what Chuck Barkley said, Charles Barkley said when the cops are trying to arrest you and you fight back, things go wrong, especially if you happen to be obese and have asthma and heart disease and diabetes.
Now, the media has skipped over some details about Garner’s arrest. The police were sent to arrest Garner because local minority-owned businesses were complaining he was driving business away and that he was competing with businesses that sold cigarettes by selling illegal, untaxed cigarettes one at a time, loosies, so the cops were called. A second fact that the media is conveniently ignoring is it was a black precinct chief who ordered the police to arrest Garner, and a third fact is the arresting police team was under the supervision of a black female police sergeant.
Now, I don’t know why the news media would leave all that information out, but they did
Anyone unsure why so many people of color are upset with the police, and suspicious of the American justice system, put your politics down, open your eyes and watch the videos.
There’s more to be said on another day about broken-windows policing. Garner was known to cops for selling loose cigarettes, though he wasn’t doing that when he was arrested and killed.
There is more to be said another day about the dishonesty or intellectual confusion of those activists, protesters and politicians who appear to view cops as the only real criminals.
But fear of police and lost faith in justice are real, corrosive forces. That fear makes decent people of color feel that society places a lower value on their lives. It makes parents and their children fear the very people who are supposed to be protecting them. Good policing demands community buy-in, so perception itself matters.
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.”…
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].’”…
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?
This inspired [“broken windows”] strategy helped save New York City, and its adoption across the country helped save the nation from the most pressing domestic problem it faced from the 196os to the 1990s. But we’re now into our third decade of the crime drop, and the simple fact of the matter is that broken-windows logic doesn’t work in the same way it did in the 1990s. The criminal class that made New York City a disastrous place to live has been rendered ineffectual. Crime is down and has remained low because the crooks are in jail and have stayed in jail. The low-hanging fruit was picked, and so too was the fruit that hung higher.
Thus, in a reversal of the past, it’s more likely the case that a shambling 43 year-old selling loosies on a commercial strip is not someone who poses much of a danger, and need not be subdued aggressively as the officers in question sought to subdue Garner. You can’t do nothing about someone like Garner—allowing him to work the street as he was in front of functioning businesses is a classic example of a window that may be on the verge of breaking. But there’s nothing and then there’s too much…
The real question that is going to be asked, now, is just how aggressive law enforcement can and should be in an era of low crime, which is what we’re in now. If you defang cops, you are inviting a return to trouble. As I wrote last week, “if we send police officers the message that it is safer for their careers and reputations to stand down, stand down they will. We are the ones who will have to reckon with the results.” At the same time, no civilized society can view the tape showing Garner’s desperate pleading and not ask some very difficult questions of itself.
Garner wasn’t targeted for death because he was avoiding taxes, but nonetheless, prohibitive cigarette taxes unnecessarily generate situations that make events like this possible. We frame violence in this way all the time. We often talk about unintended consequences. When we discuss how illegal immigrant women can be the helpless victims of domestic violence, we also blame unfair laws for creating the situation. When we talk about the Drug War and how it creates millions of non-violent criminals and needless abuse by the DEA and others, liberals have little problem blaming the underlying policy that makes all of that possible. With good reason.
Some pundits have similarly blamed broken-windows policing for Garner’s death. Those policies, whether they work or not, at aimed at protecting property and people. In the case of Garner, police were enforcing a law that has nothing to with violence. Not in the short or long term. It exists to shield people from their own lawful habit. High cigarette taxes were cooked up, in most part, to artificially inflate the price of product politicians and voters dislike so that others would not be able to afford it. For their own good…
Even if your position is that government has an important role in deciding what you should ingest, cigarette smoking has been dropping for decades around the country. It was dropping before sin taxes. It’s dropping in places there are no sin taxes. Other than inconveniencing poor people, sin taxes offer us nothing. Well, maybe a little tax revenue. A bit of social engineering. And sometimes a death.
‘If you have ten thousand regulations,” Winston Churchill once wrote, “you destroy all respect for the law.” Had he switched on the news this morning, he might have added another observation to his maxim: that being that “ten thousand regulations will eventually create ten thousand altercations.” In July of this year, on the streets of New York City, Eric Garner found this out the hard way.
Ultimately, “the State” is a synonym for “organized violence.” “If you refuse to pay your taxes,” Representative David Brat recently noted, “you will lose. You will go to jail, and if you fight, you will lose. The government holds a monopoly on violence. Any law that we vote for is ultimately backed by the full force of our government and military.” In consequence, Brat proposed, we should be careful about when and how that violence is utilized. Certainly, civilized nations need laws. But it is one thing to recruit armed men to prevent murder and rape and grievous bodily harm, and it is quite another to do so in order to regulate the manner in which cigarettes may be sold. Eric Garner was not killed while robbing a bank or starting a fight in a bar, but while selling tobacco on the street without a license. Is this really what the state is for?…
Nevertheless, we should all be willing to acknowledge that Garner would never have been so much as approached had the city not wanted its pound of flesh in the first instance. Because there are consequences to all laws — however minor — it is incumbent upon us to ask if those laws are worth the risks that they yield. What, I wonder, would the anti-tax rebels who threw off the British Empire make of the news that a man had lost his life for peacefully selling a “loosie”? Is this why governments are instituted among men?
This case is a reminder that, as Twitter user Bill Hobbs put it, government is force, and more government equals more force. Government is not a benevolent authority working bloodlessly behind the scenes to ensure seamless social harmony. Government is a guy giving you orders about what you can’t do—with a gun on his hip, handcuffs at the ready, and a muscular arm to wrap around your neck if you resist…
We should remember that whenever the police use force, there is the danger that they will kill someone, whether through malice, poor judgment, poor training, or sheer accident. From time to time, they’re going to shoot the wrong person or wrestle a guy to the ground without knowing that he has serious health problems and can’t survive this kind of rough handling. That is one good reason (among many) to make sure that police are only authorized to interfere with someone whose actions are a threat to the lives and property of others, and not just to enforce some dumb, petty regulation.
The contradiction of the left is that they want to inject government into every little aspect of our lives and mandate that the police confront us all the time over everything—and then they scream when some of those confrontations go wrong. In this way, they are not only hoping for a new series of contentious, racially charged killings. By extending the reach of government and the omnipresence of police power in our lives, they are creating the conditions that make those cases inevitable.