Quotes of the day

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Thursday he wouldn’t “second guess” the New York City grand jury that declined to indict a police officer in the apparent chokehold death of Eric Garner…

Mr. Christie criticized politicians who wade into grand jury cases, noting his experience as New Jersey U.S. attorney.

“I’m not going to second guess that work,” Mr. Christie said at a news conference during a visit to Canada. “As someone who ran a prosecuting office for seven years before I became governor, one of the things I learned is that never know all the things that a grand jury knows, unless you’re in that grand jury and working with them

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The Staten Island man who took the cellphone video seen around the world of a cop killing Eric Garner with a chokehold said the grand jury was rigged…

Orta said he arrived at the Staten Island courthouse on Sept. 1 prepared to be grilled for hours about what happened on July 17, when cops confronted Garner on a Tompkinsville street for selling unlicensed cigarettes…

“When I went to the grand jury to speak on my behalf, nobody in the grand jury was even paying attention to what I had to say,” Orta said. “People were on their phones, people were talking. I feel like they didn’t give (Garner) a fair grand jury.

“People was on their phones, people were having side conversations, like it was just a regular day to them,” he said of the jurors…

“One grand juror asked me, ‘If you knew he was selling cigarettes, why didn’t you tell him the cops was there?’” he said.

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Much has been made of Garner’s pleas that he couldn’t breathe as he was held on the ground, and in retrospect those pleas are all the more disturbing to hear given what we know to have happened soon thereafter. But the fact that Garner was saying he could not breathe was in itself evidence that he could, for if he was truly unable to breathe then neither could he have spoken. And as Garner was saying these words, neither Pantaleo nor any other officer was holding the man’s neck.

I saw nothing excessive in the manner in which the officers subdued Garner. He was neither beaten with batons nor even punched. To me, it appeared to be a fairly typical scuffle with a large man who had clearly demonstrated his unwillingness to be arrested peacefully. Pantaleo and another plainclothes officer were the first to have contacted Garner, and they showed good judgment by waiting for additional officers to arrive before moving in for the arrest. But once Garner showed he would not willingly be handcuffed, things happened as they most often do in these situations: The cops grabbed whatever part of Garner they could and wrestled him to the ground. It happens every day in any large city you could name. Given Garner’s medical condition, which included obesity, asthma, and high blood pressure, it seems very possible he would have died from the exertion of the scuffle in any case, even if no officer had touched his neck at all.

Where I do find fault with the officers is in their failure to bring Garner to a seated position as soon as they had him under control. Police trainers have long been aware of a phenomenon known as positional asphyxia, in which a person subdued as Garner was can die if left lying in a prone position for too long. Obese people are known to be at a greater risk of this condition than others. The civil case to follow will likely rest on this lapse as much as it does on the use of force itself.

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He would not have been able to speak if he were in a chokehold that cut off his airway, but he would have been able to say it if his death was due to chest compression. He was able to force breath from his lungs across his vocal chords, but he was not able to get any air back in. The same way a mouse can still squeak as a boa constrictor squeezes the life out him, Garner was able to make desperate pleas. But every time he did, his time grew shorter and shorter. A chokehold can either cut off air intake through the windpipe or cut off the carotid artery, sending blood to the brain. You can go unconscious quickly, but once it is released, you can continue to breathe normally (it happens in MMA all the time). Not so during an arrest, which can often take several minutes as the officers restrain, cuff, clear the area, and figure out what they are going to do next. With restraint-related asphyxia, it is not like holding your breath, but rather it is having no breath at all because every bit of air has been forced out. This has happened in numerous cases of hospital restraints across the country and has spurned legislation to curb its practice, which is one of the reasons I and other instructors educate mental health care workers in how to properly and safely restrain patients…

[H]aving him face-down on the concrete for an extended period of time while screaming that he couldn’t breathe can be seen as negligence on the part of everyone involved. Perhaps educating officers in the danger of these kind of restraints would be appropriate if they don’t receive it already. However, if the officer(s) were acting within the scope of what they are trained and ordered to do, one can excruciatingly reconcile that the legalities didn’t add up to make an indictment.

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[L]egal experts cautioned on Thursday that federal prosecutors often face difficulties in proving a criminal civil rights case against police officers.

Even though the takedown of Mr. Garner, 43, was preserved on a cellphone video, prosecutors will have to prove that the amount of force used by Officer Daniel Pantaleo was unreasonable or excessive, and that the officer acted willfully to deprive Mr. Garner of his civil rights, Mark F. Pomerantz, a former federal prosecutor, said…

In the Garner case, a key question will be whether the government can show willfulness on the part of Officer Pantaleo — the high standard of intent that the Supreme Court has required, said Daniel C. Richman, a former federal prosecutor who teaches criminal law at Columbia.

“The harder question is what exactly is meant by willfulness,” he said.

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Look, police brutality has many underlying causes. One of them is undoubtedly racism; black people are disproportionately arrested and imprisoned. An encounter between a cop and a civilian is more likely to be unpleasant if the civilian is black. In fact, it’s more likely to occur in the first place if the civilian is black, because many cops racially profile suspects.

Another cause is the police incentive structure. Police have far more legal protections than non-police. They can get away with so much more. Indeed, while the cop who killed Garner evaded indictment, a civilian who recorded the incident on his phone was indicted on a separate weapons charge.  It’s difficult—often impossible—to punish police for bad behavior, which gives the bad apples free rein to abuse people.

You know what’s also a cause? Overcriminalization. And that one is on you, supporters of the regulatory super state. When a million things are highly regulated or outright illegal—from cigarettes to sodas of a certain size, unlicensed lemonade stands, raw milk, alcohol (for teens), marijuana, food trucks, taxicab alternatives, and even fishing supplies (in schools)—the unrestrained, often racist police force has a million reasons to pick on people. Punitive cigarette taxes, which disproportionately fall on the backs of the poorest of the poor, contribute to police brutality in the exact same way that the war on drugs does. Liberals readily admit the latter; why is the former any different?

If you want all these things to be illegal, you must want—by the very definition of the word illegal—the police to force people not to have them. Government is a gang of thugs who are paid to push us around. It’s their job.

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Even outright legalizers (Paul says he isn’t one) aren’t necessarily in favor of, say, heroin use. Rather, they argue that the costs of prohibition outweigh the benefits. Too many are imprisoned, too many are arrested, and too many die accidentally while being arrested. Well what’s true of low-level heroin pushers is also true of low-level cigarette pushers. In the war on tobacco, like the war on drugs, if politicians will the ends, they must will the means.

This is something that libertarians understand better than everyone else: The state is about violence. You can talk all day about how “government is just another word for those things we do together,” but what makes government work is force, not hugs.

If you sell raw-milk cheese even after the state tells you to stop, eventually people with guns will show up at your home or office and arrest you. If you resist arrest, something very bad might happen. You might even die for selling bootleg cheese.

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Imagine that Eric Garner had been white. Imagine that he’d been living in Idaho. Imagine that the law-enforcement officers who killed him had been federal agents.

His death would be a Tea Party crusade

To imagine how Fox News would be reacting right now had Garner been white, rural, and facing the feds, you need only imagine how it would have reacted had a BLM agent shot [Cliven] Bundy dead…

Overall, however, conservatives have responded to the Garner case with a yawn. At 8 p.m. Wednesday night, hours after the decision had been announced, at a time when the Garner case dominated the websites of MSNBC and CNN, the top story on FoxNews.com was about Texas suing President Obama over immigration.

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Conservatives, with a few exceptions, have responded with admirable outrage over a grand jury’s failure to indict white police officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was caught on video killing Garner, an unarmed African American. Pantaleo put Garner in a chokehold and ignored Garner’s cries that he couldn’t breathe — even though the victim’s only alleged offense had been selling untaxed cigarettes…

The Ferguson, Mo., decision last month, in which a grand jury declined to charge another white police officer who killed another unarmed black man, split the nation along racial and political lines, but this is one of the rare moments since the 9/11 attacks that has united left and right, black and white. It surely won’t last long. The question is whether a reluctant president will seize the moment…

There are any number of bigger things Obama could do, including alternatives to grand juries. This year, Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker — no liberal — signed first-in-the-nation legislation requiring an outside investigation whenever anybody dies in police custody and a public report if charges are not filed. The president could use his pulpit to push for similar laws in the other states. He could at least demand a national count of police killings, which, scandalously, we still don’t have. Or he could take a broader approach to racial matters and revive a rewrite of elements of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court; there is already bipartisan support for such action…

It would be more than a shame for Obama to squander this moment of national unity. He may never get another one.

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One of the most inspiring aspects of the protests both in Ferguson and New York City has been the presence of white people. For the first time in my lifetime I’ve felt like white people—not just a few friends—really get it. They’re not just sympathizing with black folks and going on about their day (though, of course, many still are). They’re not deflecting the race issue in favor of class analysis. They’re not retreating into white guilt and shame. They’re not pointing to black people who’ve made it or the progress we’ve seen in the last 50 years. They’re demanding racial justice. They’re calling out white cops who walk for killing black men. They’re calling out cowardly prosecutors who game the system to avoid accountability. They’re using the privilege that white skin yields to protect black bodies. Most importantly, they’ve stopped making excuses for a justice system that, in all candor, has relied on their complicity to maintain its aura of legitimacy for so long in the first place…

Accepting that Eric Garner and Michael Brown are one in the same was too much for me. The implications were too distressing. If everything I’d built could be taken away at so little cost, then what was the point? Why did I bother? My only alternative was to diminish the role that race played, look for other explanations.

As trivial as it may seem, my colleague’s brusque rebuff nudged me out of my sense of futility. Sometimes things are exactly what they appear to be. Witnessing so many white allies protesting in the name of black lives has had a similarly uplifting impact on me. Of course, the thought has crossed my mind that, on some level, the presence of whites gives the protests an aura of legitimacy in the eyes of mainstream America. But, maybe, I’ve just waited all my life to see white people as fed up with racism as I am.

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Perfectly sensible people will be wondering why so many people in late 2014 thought of the Ferguson case, in particular, as the civil rights case of the 21st century. Yes, Brown should not have died—I have heartily agreed, repeatedly. But people in the future will see the current focus on Ferguson as evidence of people losing sight of the fact that activism is supposed to be about results…

[O]ne hears that however iffy the Ferguson details are, we should just go with it because it has struck a chord. That our message to America is to be “Even when my son steals from a store, refuses a cop’s order and tries to take his gun, he shouldn’t get shot.” And he shouldn’t, but wow, what a delicate and hopelessly controversial point that is in such a key moment as this. It’s a tricky, subtle assertion, which has not struck a chord with the disinterested middle because the facts are too murky. We want to make history, not just headlines…

Ferguson was the spark, but Garner was “it.”

Here is where I am quite sure Reverend King and Bayard Rustin would be planning not just statements and gestures, but boycotts. The recording of Garner’s death has the clear, potent and inarguable authority of the Birmingham newsreels. We must use that. Yes, use—we are trying to create change, not just perform.

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