Staten Island Uglier

Take Ferguson’s victim, Michael Brown. Make him 25 years older and morbidly obese. Subtract the fact that he’d just robbed a convenience store. Remove conflicting claims that he initiated the attack. Now add a minute to the video recording from before the police attack began, to underscore just how banal and non-threatening the situation was. And toss in 4 more cops (!) so Brown is obviously outnumbered and surrounded – not to mention unarmed – helpless to do anything but beg for mercy.

Last, in place of two gunshots to the head, add a chokehold, with Michael Brown Eric Garner pathetically gasping “I cant breathe” – the last words he’ll utter before being asphyxiated by the combined efforts of five (5!) New York City policemen.

We’re not done. If you havent yet seen the video of Garner’s murder, please watch it to the end (linked below). As extraordinary as was the barbarity of his killing, the callousness of NYPD officers in the aftermath is no less spectacular. Garner lies on the sidewalk, not moving, not breathing and still handcuffed for more than 6 minutes. A neither-the-best-nor-brightest EMS responder encourages him to be a good sport and get on up. No attempt is made to revive Garner. From the 10 or so NYPD officers at the scene, there is no expression whatsoever of urgency, much less that a man’s life is at stake, if not already lost.

For all the ways that Michael Brown’s killing has been made to seem contentious, Eric Garner’s cannot be. Garner had neither attacked nor threatened to attack anyone. He spent his last moments civilly pleading his case to NYPD officers, asking that they leave him alone to mind his own business. Police say they suspected him of selling untaxed cigarettes – a regulatory offense! (How many BP executives were killed by the police following their little regulatory goof in the Gulf? How ’bout Enron? BOA?) Witnesses say cops only approached Garner after he’d done a good deed, breaking up a fight.

When 5 NYPD officers attacked, video shows that Garner went down – all 350 lbs of him – without taking a swing, trying to run, or resisting in any way. In fact, even when he had 4 cops on top of him, he kept a free hand outstretched, palm up, to show that he was unarmed and not trying to resist. One cop immediately goes for the throat and hangs on, despite Garner’s repeated “I cant breathe” pleas; eventually the cop releases the choke hold, pinning Garner’s face to the sidewalk instead, as the other four hold him down and cuff his hands behind his back.

The official New York City coroner’s report ruled Garner’s death a homicide, caused by “compression of his neck (chokehold), compression of his chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.” It also mentions Garner’s asthma, heart disease and obesity as contributing factors.

Of course the punchline is, as with Michael Brown’s homicide, that the grand jury failed to indict any cop for any crime. Which is why New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman wants his office to investigate Garner’s death. The cozy relationship between local prosecutors, and the police departments they necessarily rely on to do their work, has rightly been called into question by the Brown and Garner cases, in which unarmed black men were killed by white cops, and prosecutors failed to obtain grand jury indictments.

The larger story is that 20 people are killed by cops in America every week. The issue is greater than one of racist cops and black victims – it’s about a nation with 750,000 armed police officers, and the failed effort to see to it that they protect and serve their communities, not terrorize them.



Watch the video of Garner’s killing:

(The actual video of Garner’s killing runs approximately from minute 1 to minute 5 – we tried but could not find a posting on youtube that was free of third-party commentary.)

Next watch the aftermath of the killing:

(Unbelievably, Garner lies on the sidewalk, not breathing and cuffed, for more than 6 minutes – and NYPD does nothing to attempt to revive him. Dont try imagining just how long a time that is – watch it, so you can share the disgust experienced by everyone who has.)


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