The recent event of the killing of Eric Garner by a NYPD cop has caused a great deal of controversy throughout the country. It has lead to protests and newfound distrust of the police. This article examines the facts of the the Eric Garner case. How did this happen? What are the moral implications of how the police do their job and how they treat individuals of color?
Eric Garner was a 43-year-old, 6'3'' 350 pound man. He had a wife and six children and was said to be a peacekeeper by various bystanders. Yet, Garner had an active criminal record: He had been arrested 30 times since 1980 for various reasons such as assault, resisting arrest, grand larceny, driving without a license, selling untaxed cigarettes, and marijuana possession. However, he believed he was falsely accused of many of these cases. In addition, the New York Times reported that he "recently told lawyers at Legal Aid that he intended to take all the cases against him to trial." Even more, in 2007 he filed a complaint of a police officer accusing him of "digging his finger in my rectum in the middle of the street." Thus, the facts are that Garner had multiple run-ins with the police, but he believed he was falsely accused of many of these cases.
Officer Daniel Pantaleo was a 29-year-old officer for the NYPD. Before this event he was previously accused of falsely arresting and abusing two men. This was brought to attention in two civil rights lawsuits in 2013. Thus, Pantaleo was a young officer who had a record of falsely accusing citizens of crimes.
THE FACTS OF THE EVENT:
On July 17, 2014 in Staten Island Eric Garner stood in front of a beauty supply store in the Thomkinsville neighborhood of Staten Island. According to bystanders Garner previously broke up a fight nearby. His friend Ramsey Orta who filmed the event was standing close to Garner. According to these bystanders as well, Garner brought attention to himself by a few police officers because he broke up this fight. Mainly, the police focused on Garner because they believed he was illegally selling untaxed cigarettes. The police verbally accused Garner of selling cigarettes illegally, and Garner responded to this by explaining his innocence. Garner explained how he was not doing anything wrong and that the police always seem to falsely accuse him of crimes. He asked the police to leave him alone, and he talked back to the police. The police decided to arrest Garner for this crime.
Officer Pantaleo went to handcuff Garner for this crime. When Officer Pantaleo went to Garner's back to handcuff him Garner resisted arrest and said, "Don't touch me please." After that Pantaleo pulled Garner to the ground. On the way down Garner slammed a glass window. It is ambiguous whether Pantaleo used a chokehold or a headlock to pull Garner to the ground. While lying on the sidewalk after being pulled to the ground Pantaleo kept his arms around Garner's neck. Here on the ground, Garner repeated the famous words "I can't breathe" 11 times. The event can be watched in the YouTube videos below.
After Pantaleo released Garner, the police officers believed that he was stable and breathing. Specifically, Sargent Kizzy Adnoi reported that "The perpetrator's condition did not seem serious at the time and he did not appear to get worse." Since the police believed that Garner was stable, they did not perform CPR. Yet, Garner was unresponsive, and one of the officers consoled Garner and told him to breathe. Even more, when the EMT's and paramedics arrived, no help was given immediately. They did not automatically put him in a stretcher or perform emergency medical aid.
According to the police Garner had a heart attack on the way to the hospital and died an hour after that. The doctor said that Garner's cause of death was "compression of neck and chest and positioning during the time of physical restraint by police."
After the event Pantaleo was stripped of his badge and gun by the NYPD. The EMT's and paramedics who responded to the scene were suspended without pay. Additionally, a few protests took place before the decision to indict or not indict Pantaleo was made. Al Sharpton scheduled a peaceful protest in July, and WalkRunFly productions carried out a peaceful protest of poetry in Times Square.
On December 3 a Grand Jury of 23 members decided not to indict Officer Pantaleo. The jury's demographics included 14 white members and 9 non-white members, of which at least 5 were black. This decision was made a few weeks after the decision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson from Ferguson was made.
Some of the public was outraged after the Grand Jury decided not to indict Pantaleo. This led to many peaceful protests and "die ins" in both Boston and New York City. A "die in" is a protest in which the protestors lay on the ground simulating death. Similarly, many public figures have responded with their opinions to this decision. To start, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City called the death a "terrible tragedy." President Obama said that this death and outcome demonstrated this issue as an "American Problem" (Huffington Post). Former president George W. Bush said this event was "hard to understand" (Politico).
A few NBA and NFL players wore T-Shirts that said, "I can't breathe" during warm-ups. Also, this event caused the police commissioner William Bratton to carry out a review of the NYPD.
Although many politicians and public figures denounced this event, some believed that Pantaleo was carrying out his duty as a cop. For example former San Jose Police Officer Phillip White recently tweeted, "Threaten me or my family and I will use my God given and law appointed right and duty to kill you. #CopsLivesMatter." This tweet created controversy.
Since our country has become extremely partisan in the recent decade, basically every event has turned into a partisan issue including this one. Generally the Republicans have believed that Garner is at fault on this issue because he is a criminal. On the other hand, the Democrats have generally had the opinion that the police force is at fault for this event. This event has become part of the partisan climate of our country.