Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Tragedies of Eric Garner

Eric Garner officially died Thursday in a hospital, but his death occurred on the streets of Staten Island. He was the victim of a police arrest, which was literally a takedown. A cell phone video filmed the incident. Two police officers approached him about selling “loosies,” single cigarettes. He denied it: “I’m minding my business. Why don’t you leave me alone?” Eric was a big man, 6’3”, 350 pounds at 43 years of age. He started walking away. He did not fight the officers or pull out a weapon. He walked away. The police probably knew who Eric was. He had been arrested 31 times previously, sometimes for selling “loosies.” He did not pose a threat to the officers. Officer Daniel Pantaleo, a 8 year veteran, jumped Eric from behind, throwing his arm around Eric’s neck in what is commonly referred to as a chokehold, which results in compression of the carotid arteries and jugular veins on both sides of the neck. It can be deadly. Four more officers jumped on Eric’s back as he was smacked down to the ground. He tried crawling away, repeatedly yelling “I can’t breathe.” They did not let up until he laid still. Four EMS’s stood by the prostrate Eric without offering CPR. It’s all on tape, which has gone viral. The internal NYPD police report omitted mention of the chokehold, but it’s on video for all to see. The African American community has erupted, seeing it as one more example of NYPD racism against Blacks. I give officers the benefit of the doubt. They have to make split second, life or death decisions. The wrong decision can result in the death of an officer or an innocent party. If for example they see the shadow of a gun pointing at them, they don’t necessarily know if it a villain about to shoot them, or a child with a toy gun. These situations often lack a Hollywood ending. Police officers are allowed to use reasonable force in executing an arrest, but reasonable force in the arrest for a misdemeanor does not include deadly force. A chokehold may constitute deadly force. Even if it doesn’t, it was banned by the NYPD in 1993. A chokehold thereby constitutes excessive force in New York City. It may be banned in New York, but officers still use it. The Civilian Complaint Review Board received about 1,022 complaints since 2009 of chokeholds by police officers. It only found evidence in 9 cases of chokeholds being applied, but many of the investigations failed because of the complainant did not pursue the complaint. The initial autopsy Saturday was inconclusive. More studies are needed. We know though that Eric Garner had severe asthma. That may well have played a role in his death. He also suffered from diabetes and sleep apnea. Eric’s death is the first tragedy, a needless tragedy. The second tragedy is what he died for: peddling bootleg cigarettes on the street for $.50/cigarette. He was killed for selling cigarettes, not dope, oxy or hard drugs. They said he had sold single cigarettes to children, which made his “crime” a “quality of life” issue. New York Mayor Bloomberg pushed through an ordinance last year mandating that the minimum price of a pack of 20 cigarettes would be $10.50. New York State imposes an excise tax of $4.35/pack to which New York City adds another $1.50. A simple calculation of the higher priced Marlboros will show the Marlboros selling for $140 per 10 pack carton. The result is a mainline bootleg from North Carolina, which only imposes 1 $.45 excise tax on packs, to New York City. An estimated 60.9% of all cigarettes sold in the City are bootlegged. The obvious solution would be to lower the cigarette taxes and the minimum price/pack. The City’s solution is to sic the police on street sellers of cigarettes. Political leaders sometimes lack common sense. Whatever Eric Garner’s life was worth, and it will have a high value in the wrongful death lawsuit, it was certainly worth more that fifty cents a cigarette. Officer Pantaleo probably knows his career is over. He and his partner have been assigned desk duty. Officer Pantaleo also had to surrender his badge and gun. He may well face a criminal indictment, if not from the City than the United States Justice Department. The Civil Rights unit of DOJ will have a field day with this example of apparent police brutality. The four EMT’s are under limited suspensions. They are barred from going out on calls pending the outcome of the investigation. They also don’t look good on the video. Neither does the NYPD or the City of New York.

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