This will be linked forever to the grand jury decision in Ferguson, partly because of the races of the cop and the deceased and partly because the decisions were issued just a week apart. In key ways, though, the two incidents were different: The killing of Eric Garner was caught on video; Garner didn’t put the cops in fear for their lives; and the chokehold used by Officer Daniel Pantaleo that killed Garner, who was asthmatic (you’ll hear him wheezing “I can’t breathe” repeatedly in the clip), is banned under the NYPD’s own guidelines. Pantaleo was stripped of his gun and put on desk duty after the incident as a preliminary punishment. This summer, a Quinnipiac poll found that 64 percent of New Yorkers thought he should face some kind of charges for Garner’s death.
Garner’s crime, by the way, was selling illegal cigarettes. Says an angry Charles Cooke:
Seriously, can you imagine what Sam Fucking Adams would have said at the news that a man had been killed over cigarette taxes.
— Charles C. W. Cooke (@charlescwcooke) December 3, 2014
No one thinks Pantaleo was trying to kill Garner, just to subdue him. But in that case, how’d he miss indictment on a lesser charge?
The Eric Garner murder is pretty much slam-dunk second-degree manslaughter at the very least. But hey: Two Americas. pic.twitter.com/ll6apG3CIO
— Sean Davis (@seanmdav) December 3, 2014
As Davis says, the fact that chokeholds are against department policy suggests that even the NYPD finds them reckless. I sure hope the DA releases all of the evidence that the GJ saw. Either way, though, here’s a prediction: While this case is a much stronger example of excessive force by police than Ferguson was and therefore will somewhat avoid the “retreat to identity” that Ross Douthat described in his last column, it won’t avoid it entirely. Whether it might have, had the Ferguson debate not been so polarizing, I don’t know. But we are where we are.
Update: Lots of conservatives whom I follow on Twitter are shocked by the failure to indict. Here’s a good question from Red State’s Dan McLaughlin. Did the prosecutor ask for manslaughter at all?
I hope we get some reporting – which I haven't seen so far – on what charges were requested in Garner case, despite GJ secrecy rules.
— Dan McLaughlin (@baseballcrank) December 3, 2014
Update: Another good point by Ace’s co-blogger Jeff B. The threshold for an indictment is, of course, probable cause that a crime was committed, a far lower standard than “beyond a reasonable doubt” needed to convict. In Ferguson, D.A. Robert McCulloch apparently looked at the evidence, concluded (rightly) that they had zero chance of convicting Darren Wilson at trial, and decided not to press hard for an indictment before the grand jury. Surely there was some chance that Pantaleo would be convicted on a lesser charge, though; the video evidence alone is damning. Did the NYC DA press hard to get an indictment? If not, why not?
Update: Libertarian Ken White:
I don't like Eric Holder, and in general don't approve of Feds doubling up, but the Eric Garner case merits it. This needs a U.S. Attorney.
— Popehat (@Popehat) December 3, 2014
Update: An interesting footnote via a reader: Of the 23 members of the grand jury, allegedly 14 are white and nine are non-white, including five blacks. It takes a simple majority of 12 votes to indict.
Update: Turns out there was an indictment in this case. The guy who filmed Garner’s arrest and death was indicted. On a gun charge.