…and trying any of the officers involved would be unethical.
Naturally, Eric Garner’s family immediately is attacking the decision of the Justice Department today not to bring federal charges against the New York police officers whose ugly and violent arrest of Eric Garner in 2014 led to his death. This incident came in the midst of several high-profile police shootings following the triggering Trayvon Martin killing, and led directly to the emergence of Black Lives Matters as well as launching one of several catch phrases connected with the movement, “I can’t breath.”
The Department of Justice took a long time reviewing the incident and the evidence, and could not determine that Officer Daniel Pantaleo willfully committed misconduct, an “essential element necessary to bring federal charges,” a senior department official told reporters at a briefing today. Considering all the elements of the crime required to be proven under the law, the DOJ official said, the conclusion was that the police conduct did not “fit within the statute.”
In deciding not to bring charges, U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr sided with federal prosecutors in Brooklyn. The Justice’s Civil Rights Division had favored bringing charges.
The main problem facing the Justice Department and the New York prosecutors was that a conviction would be unlikely, making a prosecution more of a show trial than a real one, much like the George Zimmerman trial for allegedly murdering Martin. That trial was brought unethically to slake activist thirst for vengeance against Martin’s shooter, despite the glaring evidence indicating self-defense. Prosecutors may not use the process itself to punish citizens. If a trial can’t be won, or if the justification for charges are dubious, then it is professional misconduct to bring them.
Were police negligent and reckless in using such aggressive measures to bring down a suspect who was resisting arrest? Absolutely, and this was addressed, as it should have been, in a civil trial. (Garner’s family was awarded 4 million dollars from the city.) Did the cops intend to kill Garner? It takes real anti-police bias to conclude that. The video shows a huge, morbidly obese man resisting arrest by a group of much smaller officers, who pretty evidently over-reacted. Although the ME attributed Garner’s death to “compression of neck (choke hold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police,” the defense in a criminal trial will have no trouble finding persuasive expert testimony to the effect that what ultimately killed Eric Garner was his weight and poor health.
The fact that the grand jury in 2014 refused to charge the police is a large and ominous clue that a trial jury would be similarly ambivalent.
The caterwauling from Kamala Harris, Bill DeBlasio and Al Sharpton with others sure to follow in the wake of this news should be interpreted as cynical and expedient political theater, and not legitimate dissent. De Blasio has already demonstrated that there was never an accusation against his police he didn’t support; Harris made a habit of over-zealous prosecution, and as we all know, Al made his name demanding indictments for an imaginary crime. Democrats and Black Lives Matter, meanwhile, have made it clear they only support due process when it reaches their desired result.
Now this will be one more thing for Megan Rapinoe and Colin Kaepernick to kneel about. That’s none of the Justice Department’s concern either. What a jury was likely to find, as in too many of the police related deaths, was that the primary cause of a tragedy was the deceased’s irresponsible decision to resist arrest. That factor is perhaps more glaring in Garner’s case than in most.
[My previous examination of the Garner case is here.]