Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The $5.9 Million Eric Garner Settlement Does Not Solve the Underlying Problem of Bootlegged Cigarettes

The City of New York just settled with Eric Garner’s family for $5.9 million. The settlement was inevitable once the video arose of Eric Garner’s takedown by the NYPD a year ago. Each one of the eleven “I can’t breath” plaintive pleas by Eric Garner added to the damages. The only questions were how quickly and how much. The law can not bring a victim back to life. All it can do is provide monetary damages for the wrongful death. Eric died because he was selling loosies on Staten Island. A tip complained about loosie sales on the street. The order came from police headquarters to crack down. Eric Garner refused to cooperate with the responding police officers. It took a swarm of officers to subdue him, followed by a failure to provide emergency medical care by the police or paramedics as he was gasping for breathe. Al Sharpton is still claiming that Eric Garner’s tragedy shows the need to reform the NYPD. The family still wants a federal indictment of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who either applied an illegal chokehold, or in his words, a legal maneauver called a “seat belt.” A Staten Island Grand Jury refused to indict Officer Pantaleo. Eric Garner’s death is not the prototypical case of white officers killing African American males. The Sergeant on the scene was an African American woman. The underlying problem is sending New York’s finest to enforce an excessive cigarette tax. Loosies are single cigarettes sold on the street. The figures aren’t clear in the coverage of Eric’s death the price of his loosies. The figure could be $.50, $75 or a dollar. One article said $.75. The problem for New York City is that most loosies are bootlegged cigarettes. Eric Garner was previously arrested with untaxed packs of cigarettes. The state imposes a tax of $4.35 on each pack of 20 cigarettes while the city adds an additional tax of $1.50. Thus, the City and State impose a tax of $4.85 on each pack of cigarettes, or $58.50 on a carton of cigarettes. The ostensible goal is to reduce smoking. The real goal is raising revenue. The practical effect is the smuggling of cigarettes into New York, presumably by organized crime The feds attach an additional tax of $1.01/pack. Retail prices for cartons of cigarettes exceed $100.00 The result is that almost 2/3 of the cigarettes sold in New York City are bootlegged from North Carolina and Virginia for resale on the street. Eric Garner was one of scores street sellers of cigarettes. The government loses tax revenue and the merchants sales. New York City needed to tax 3,933,333 and 1/3 packs to cover the settlement since presumably New York State is not kicking in. What a tragic loss of life and a stupid tax policy for 75 cent loosies!

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