It’s not the worst of times in New York City, but it’s certainly not the best of times, either, after a grand jury’s refusal to indict a police officer for the death of a cigarette-selling suspect that was caught on videotape. The Big Apple erupted in outrage yesterday, with police making dozens of arrests at demonstrations last night. The two biggest tabloid newspapers took the debate to the newsstands this morning, with two very different and provocative front pages:
Bill DeBlasio made a Charles Dickens reference about the different reactions, according to Mashable’s Brian Ries:
"We're living a tale of two cities in many ways," @BilldeBlasio says.
— Brian Ries+ (@moneyries) December 4, 2014
That’s not exactly what Dickens had in mind with his novel, which focused on the differences between pre-revolutionary Paris and London, but … any allusion in a pinch, I suppose, and the two newspapers at least hint at a sharp division over the Garner case. But is that really true? The Daily Beast reports that New York City seemed to come together in opposition to the grand jury decision, not split apart:
Protestors filled the street for only a few blocks before a lone policeman raced from the rear of the crowd to the front and warned that he’d start arresting people if they didn’t stop blocking traffic. A woman at the head of the group turned without missing a step, and waved to her fellow protestors channeling them on to the sidewalk where they stayed for the remainder of the march.
There were more than a few older protestors like Karen in the group and three or four infants strapped to their parents, but most were between 25-45. Judging by race and gender you couldn’t have picked between the protestors and a subway car at rush hour. It was a standard New York mix.
George Cook, a middle aged black man from the Bronx, brought up the rear. His sign was the last one people saw as the column of marchers passed them, it read, “Am I next?”
Cook walked more slowly than most, stopping to engage with passersby who expressed their own frustration and support. An older white woman, stopped Cook to ask, in strong New York accent, “Oh no, did they let him off?”
“They let him go,” Cook said.
Why?” the woman asked, stopped in the street where she’d asked her first question.
“That’s why we’re marching,” Cook said getting farther away from her.
“It’s not enough!” the woman cried from behind him.
The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake also notices the consensus produced by the Garner grand jury decision, at least for now:
So now that another grand jury has declined to indict white police officers in the death of another unarmed black man — Eric Garner in New York City— one might expect it to combine with Ferguson to create something of a political snowball effect.
But early indications are that this isn’t happening. In fact, plenty of Republicans, as well as Democrats and minority groups, are crying foul on this one. …
A recent Pew survey showed that just 30 percent of Americans rate the job being done by police as “excellent” or “good.”
Similarly, just 30 percent say police departments are at least “good” at holding their officers accountable for misconduct, and 35 percent say they are at least “good” at using the right amount of force. More than six in 10 Americans rate them “fair” or “poor” at these two things.
That leaves plenty of room for skepticism when it comes to the officers’ conduct before Garner’s death. And we’re already seeing many conservatives and Republicans joining in the questioning of the decision not to indict the officers involved.
After the announcement of the grand-jury decision, the police officer involved issued a statement of regret. That didn’t mollify the widow of Eric Garner, who appeared on the Today show this morning to decry the unfairness of the outcome, and her incredulity that people who watched the video could not return an indictment against the police officers who applied the chokehold that led to Garner’s death:
Esaw Snipes-Garner, the widow of Eric Garner, dismissed the apology of the police officer who placed her husband in a fatal chokehold, telling TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie it came far too late.
“The time to apologize or have any remorse, like I said yesterday, would have been when my husband was screaming he couldn’t breathe,” she told Guthrie on Thursday, the morning after a New York grand jury decided against indicting police officer Daniel Pantaleo. …
“I started bawling. I started crying because it’s not fair. It’s not fair. What did they not see? How could they possibly not indict?” she said. “I felt hopeless, I felt like there was not another corner to turn, like there was nothing for me to fight for.”
So rather than A Tale of Two Cities, at least for the moment it seems as though the Big Apple is less divided than the tabloid cover battle would suggest. The New York Post editorial board still argues that the case has been settled, and that the debate should be over:
Our view here is similar to our take last week on a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown.
Only the grand jurors have seen all the evidence, and, after they did, they apparently concluded Officer Pantaleo’s actions showed no malice or intent to harm.
Instead, they saw an unnecessary death that stemmed from Eric Garner’s decision to resist cops trying to arrest him for selling illegal cigarettes.
Had the 350-pound Garner not physically resisted, requiring Pantaleo and his fellow cops to take him to the ground, he would likely be alive today.
The differences between the two cases argue otherwise. In Ferguson, the physical evidence and witness testimony that didn’t get properly reported for months showed that the decedent violently attacked the police officer once and started to charge him a second time. In New York, the video showed that while Garner wasn’t cooperating, he wasn’t violent either, and wasn’t an obvious threat to the safety of the officers. On top of that, police had tried to arrest Garner over a regulatory beef, not because he’d attacked anyone, and was arguably already subdued while the chokehold was still being applied and while Garner tried to tell the police that he couldn’t breathe. All of that was obvious in the video taken of the incident, a luxury that people didn’t have in Ferguson.
The presentation to the grand jury might clear up these questions, assuming it ever gets released, but until that happens the debate is far from over.