The New York Times, among others, reports that the Staten Island grand jury has brought no indictment in the Eric Garner case, in which a large African American man resisted arrest and was brought down by multiple cops, as one, Daniel Pantaleo, used a choke hold to restrain him. After saying that he couldn’t breathe, Garner, who was asthmatic, stopped breathing and died
1. I haven’t seen all the evidence, and stipulate that there may be some good reason for the non-indictement that I am not aware of. That aside, however, it certainly seems like this case embodies many of the features that were not present in the death of Michael Brown but that the media and activist narrative attributed to it nonetheless. Garner’s case, in contrast, appears to demonstrate an unwillingness of the law enforcement and justice system to hold police officers accountable for the results of excessive force, even when the result is death.
2. Again, absent some significant evidence that has not been made public, I believe that the video of the fatal arrest, the fact that the choke hold tactic is prohibited by police department policy [ Note: I originally wrote that it was illegal; that was in error, and I apologize for the mistake], and the coroner’s verdict that Garner’s death was a homicide should have been sufficient to mandate the grand jury finding probable cause for at least a charge of negligent homicide.
3. This seems like a result worthy of protest. It is one more reason why activists continuing to use Brown’s death as a rallying point is foolish and wrong. For their purposes, it is a weak case. Garner’s is not.
4, This will not stop activists from associating Garner’s death with Brown’s, and Trayvon Martin too. Do they not know the difference, or just not care? Either way, conflating the two—I am listening to CNN, and heard the two cases paired about 20 times already—will just assist the campaign to misrepresent the likely facts of Michael Brown’s death. The two cases are not connected. There is no inconsistency in the conclusion that the Ferguson grand jury reached the correct decision, while the Graner decision was unjust.
5. Naturally, Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department would investigate for civil rights violations. He continues to be divisive, ridiculous, and to abuse his power. Even the video makes it obvious that the police weren’t trying to kill Garner, and he was being arrested as a legitimate suspect in a crime. Where is the alleged racial animus? Holder’s message is clear: any time a white man (or “white Hispanic”) causes the death of a black man, it is prima facie racism. He is irresponsible.
6. The reasons why the Ferguson incident caused an immediate fervor while the Garner death was localized are all based on optics rather than reason. Garner wasn’t a teenager. He was not initially portrayed in the news media as a harmless, college-bound black youth with a bright future, using a photo that made him look like a character on “Different Strokes.” Garner, unlike Brown, was not left dead on the street waiting for the scene to be processed. No friend of Garner spun an inflammatory tale about the circumstances of his death: there was a video. His grief-stricken mother didn’t make herself the public face of the tragedy. A middle-aged man, Garner didn’t fit the casting requirements: activists wanted a teen, just like Trayvon. And “I can’t breathe!” just isn’t as effective a chant as “Stop! Don’t shoot!”
7. Throwing your hands over your head is also more dramatic and easier to do than pretending to be choked. Does everyone know the joke about why Jesus was crucified rather than stoned to death? Same principle.
8. Reflecting back on my disagreement with Monroe Freedman over a prosecutor’s biases when an officer is facing charges: maybe a special system is called for when cops kill civilians, unarmed or otherwise. The Garner case, though not the Brown case, have me persuaded that one is needed.
44 thoughts on “Observations on the Eric Garner Non-Indictment”
I’d extend that to any prospective prosecution involving a police officer. There is the appearance of a very, very obvious double-standard here.
OTOH I’m not at all sure that any law enforcement would be possible if cops were treated as badly as civilians. I’m certain though that no justice system could function if civilians were treated as leniently as cops. It would save money though – no need for more than a few judges, and no need for more than a few prisons. Almost no criminal trials.
I should mention that both Mr Orta and the police who arrested him have unsavoury reputations. Neither should be regarded as credible witnesses. What is it, 22 arrests on one hand, a long list of proven perjury and frame-ups on the other?
Seems to me that the benefit of a doubt should go with the accused in this case. Twenty-two arrests may indicate a propensity towards criminal behavior, but it doesn’t constitute guilt, and I don’t think it lends any credibility to this cop, who probably should have been canned after the first proven perjury or frame-up.
Then again, I’m not a lawyer.
On point number six, I think the decision not to give Mr. Garner’s death blanket coverage had more to do with utility than optics. If you want to divide people and provoke racial resentment and hatred then this incident wasn’t helpful. Too many people of all persuasions could agree that incident was wrong and the officers should be punished. For some reason (apparently political), a sizable portion of the media and the Left want to provoke racial tensions.
I suspect that you are right.
Jack, take heart: You _are_ having a good influence on me.
I had not followed the Garner case, but twice – the very first time I saw the video and heard that he had died, and again, the most recent time I was reminded of the case, in the news that the GJ did not indict – my first thought on the situation was your #2, thinking “negligent homicide,” at least.
I am beginning to believe that a higher priority for required equipment on every cop’s person is not a mere body camera, but some kind of two-way melanin detector that makes sure the cops in proximity to a suspect have skin color similar enough to the suspect’s to avoid appearance of race bias.
Would Al Sharpton give up a bit of his obviously abundant funds for travel and well-dressed appearances to accelerate development of such a device?
This comment is 100% sarcasm-free.
Or, a black and white cop in each squad car, like in the movies.
But not one of those Uncle Tom righty conservatives. Not black enough.
“Would Al Sharpton give up a bit of his obviously abundant funds for travel and well-dressed appearances to accelerate development of such a device?”
Unlikely, that. He wont even pay “His fair share” of income tax.
This case reminds me of a local one. Police tried to take into custody a 26 year old man Down’s syndrome because he would not leave a movie theater, he died from positional asphyxia after being laid on his stomach for 1-2 minutes. No indictment from the grand jury.
I think people, especially those with a positive attitude towards government regulation, need to recognize that governments only tool for implementing regulation is force. More government regulations means more force. If you oppose the use of force it makes no sense to increase government regulation.
I think at the end of the day, it comes down to a matter of reasonableness. Is it reasonable to arrest someone who refuses to leave a place they aren’t supposed to be? Is it reasonable to cuff that person, once the decision to arrest has been made? Is it reasonable to leave someone on the ground while making decisions on how to proceed? I hate to tell you this, but from the facts of the case as presented in the article, I’m not sure that this is a good example for you to use, if your assertion is that there should have been an indictment.
As I read the statutory language for manslaughter, I think the question you pose is exactly correct. Was the force used excessive or reasonable? I am not sure, but accepting that it was reasonable still leaves me questioning the large number of instances were force is used, caused by the excess of regulation, and how additional regulation will only increase this dynamic. People who oppose the militarization of the police, and detest the growing number of instances were force is used by the police, need to be more critical of the amount of regulation and size of our criminal statutes as they two are related.
Additionally, I think people need to consider, and both these cases raise the issue for me, how little violence it can take to kill someone. A choke hold applied for 30 second to subdue, leaving someone on their stomach for 2 minutes, or other seemingly low levels of force is, in certain cases, deadly. Are we, as a society, going to accept a non-zero level of non-compliant, but otherwise non-threatening, suspects being killed while being brought into custody? If we are going to accept it, how much and what level?
My larger point remains, the more we criminalize common behavior the more often police are called in and have to subdue suspects. The law of large numbers leads to a non-trivial number of deaths as the result of even low levels of violence used. Is this OK? If not, part of the solution has to be reducing the number of arrests made by reducing the burden of our criminal law.
In short, NYC’s ridiculously huge excise tax on cigarettes promotes the very black market Eric Garner took part in. A black market that, against the law, had to be suppressed.
After my post I read an op-ed in Bloomberg making the same argument. it starts:
‘On the opening day of law school, I always counsel my first-year students never to support a law they are not willing to kill to enforce.’
I don’t know if that reasoning holds. I wouldnt be willing to kill a vandal. But they become much more than a vandal when they resist arrest or assault an officer.
I think the reasoning applies, you are willing to kill a vandal in certain situations, so support is reasonable.
Is there ever a situation where you are OK killing someone who is selling loose cigarettes?
Maybe if that person clocked a police officer, laid him out and proceeded to smash his head on a fire hydrant. Maybe…?
“Government is not reason; it is not eloquence; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” – George Washington
Not picking on you, but this just did not ring true as genuine George, and indeed, it is not.
(Not the president George Washington… It was George Washington the shoe maker from Brooklyn, New York, c 1765… Predating any supposed quote by the GW the pres)
I am surprised a grand jury didn’t return an indictment in this case. I wonder if the Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown protesters have actually made it harder to hold police accountable when they cross the line. When you cry wolf enough…
It doesn’t help that only about 5% of the protesters want to solve so-called “injustice” and would rather just riot or create further racial animosity.
See, in the case of Garner, where people actually would have to protest injustice and just about everyone across the board would easily call this injustice, the remaining 95% of “protesters” aren’t getting to achieve their goals.
Well, it is finally getting plenty of attention, but instead of creating the united front against police brutality that it probably otherwise would and should have, it’s just adding to the divide caused by Ferguson: http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/30326891
Lessons not learned by the Boy who cried wolf story
Case in point: http://www.salon.com/2014/12/03/the_vile_right_wing_response_to_garners_death_blame_bloomberg_and_nycs_cigarette_tax/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=socialflow
Interestingly enough that’s the libertarian response as well.
Really, the “reasonable person” response in general.
But i would expect Salon to get it wrong.
Really, it’s like the concept of one incident representing more than one systematic fault is incomprehensible to them (or the concept of intellectual opponents valuing human life in general).
It’s not a vile right wing response. To quote an commenter on that thread, ‘Left complains of police violence. Right says “who enforces all the laws & regulations you want?” Left scoffs. Man killed over cig tax.’
In a perfect world all suspects would comply, and police would never use force during an arrest. We don’t live in that world. Police use force to make arrests, and even seemingly low levels of force (not the Garner case but see the case of Robert Saylor) can lead to death.
In my opinion, the force used in the Garner case is appalling, and clearly points to change police behavior. But, that alone will not solve the underlying problem because any use of force can lead to death. Certainly training police differently is critical if you want to reduce the number of suspects killed while being detained, but so is reducing the burden of our criminal and regulatory laws.
Case in point why I’ll never officially consider myself “left”, despite my sympathies in that direction. Also, the Cold War showed us pretty well how selective the so-called “left” could be in addressing human injustice.
I don’t have time to look for it now but right after this happened you could find the complete cell phone video online.
After the police choked this guy out they left him lay there, unconscious and barely breathing for well over five minutes. In 90’F heat and with his body weight compressing his lung function.
Without oxygen your brain has three minutes until you become a turnip.
All these cops milling around after the fact, or tapping Mr. Garner on the shoulder (like that is going to do anything) are responsible for this man’s death – they stood around and watched him die and they did NOTHING.
At the very least they should have rolled him over on his back and opened his airway which likely would have allowed him to start breathing again (or better) on his own.
When you stop someone from breathing you need to restart their breathing or they WILL DIE.
If you stop someone’s heart from beating you need to restart it or they are going TO DIE.
Why is this so hard to understand?
What is the point of the police being trained in CPR if they are not going to use it?
So yeah, in my mind, in my conservative and cop-supporting mind, this man literally died on the street due to the inaction of the police.
If this had been my family member, I would be lawyered up to the eyeballs and suing the living daylights out of the city of NY.
“I don’t have time to look for it now but right after this happened you could find the complete cell phone video online.”
I felt exactly the same when I saw the video. It seemed to me that the officers knew the man was quite possibly close to death before the ambulance arrived and I was amazed at their nonchalance. Even after the ambulance arrived there seemed to be absolutely no sense of urgency. For me, that was the most striking part of the video. The absolute lack of concern.
After seeing the video posted on the net, I am wondering why the Grand Jury no-billed. The video would, on the face of it, seem pretty damning, but I have been cautioned by a couple of friends not to rush to judgment. So, I am going to wait a couple of days and see if somebody finds proof that the video is photoshopped, then I going to say “Hang him.”
What makes you think the Grand Jury was shown the video by the prosecutor?
Ah-ha! Now that is a GOOD question. I wonder now if it actually was shown? And will we ever find out?
That’s a new record for cynicism, but 1) the jury was not sequestered, so they undoubtedly knew about it, and thus not presenting it would be like not showing the Rodney King video to THAT grand jury 2) he would be looking at disbarment if that were true, and 3) the officer’s testimony required the video to make even the little sense it did.
Would now be an awkward time to mention judicial immunity?
Read more at http://thefreethoughtproject.com/cop-caught-video-bragging-killed-man/#Q0BSR7mzECmLD69H.99
The question is not “Am I being cynical?” It’s “am I being cynical enough?”
If I’m not mistaken, Sharpton was originally pushing this case in the media. I could be wrong but maybe he saw more opportunity elsewhere?
Can anyone with the contacts or position check and comment on whai I have read about Mr Garner, i.e. 41 prior arrests for loosies to robbery,was out on bail at time revoked drivers license. I do not mean to say that this fully excuses anyone from indictment but perhaps the police knew who they were dealing with. Also anyone in a choke hold cannot fully verbalize and the autopsy report indicate cause of death was a heart attack. After having sai all of that may I reiterate that this was a tragic jncident that was avoidable.
No, he was undoubtedly a habitual minor league scofflaw. His death was still, if not negligent homicide, certainly sufficient to require a trial: there no need for such a violent and stressful arrest.
Well, coming from a military background where hand to hand combat was drilled heavily, I can attest that indeed in a proper choke hold, muffled grunts are about all that emanate. And one can be trained to tolerate the discomfort during the fight. However, to the untrained, discomfort begins much sooner than when a complete choke is achieved, for the very inexperienced even the initial pressure on an Adam’s Apple is enough to induce feelings of choking.
Garner no doubt, due to his weight, conditions and lack of fitness felt enough to panic and “not be able to breath” (even if he actually could).