On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner, a black man, was killed by a white NYPD officer. Here is the story behind his death.
1. Eric Garner had been busted before for selling untaxed cigarettes.
In March 2014, 43-year-old Eric Garner was arrested for selling untaxed cigarettes. The NYPD cracks down on low-level offenses like these because of "broken-window policing" — a strategy that former Mayor Rudy Giuliani started in which low-level offenses are given harsh penalties. Why?
- "Murder and graffiti are two vastly different crimes. But they are part of the same continuum, and a climate that tolerates one is more likely to tolerate the other.”
So untaxed cigarettes were also on the same spectrum as murder. A bit ironic given how much cigarettes negatively affect people's health, and yet none of the huge tobacco manufacturers are being pursued by the police.
Before you say, "But Eric was breaking the law!" keep this in mind. A pack of cigarettes. A pack of untaxed cigarettes. Let that image remain in your head.
2. The day he died, Garner was trying to break up a fight. When police arrived, the fight was over.
It happened on Staten Island. Two policemen spotted Garner successfully breaking up a fight between two other people.
In spite of this, the police didn't concern themselves much with the two people who were fighting. Instead, they focused on Garner.
3. The police again tried to arrest Eric for selling cigarettes.
Even though Garner had just stopped two people from assaulting each other, he was suddenly the culprit in the situation.
When the two policemen tried to arrest him, Garner's response was:
- “Every time you see me, you try to arrest me. I’m tired of it. It stops today.”
One of the policemen who tried to arrest Garner is Daniel Pantaleo.
4. Pantaleo placed Garner in a choke hold.
That image above? That's like the choke hold used on Eric. Pantaleo probably didn't know it, Eric was suffering from asthma.
5. Choke holds are banned by the NYPD.
Before you say, "But Pantaleo had the right to use force on a man who was breaking the law!" what he did was actually against the NYPD's rules as of 1993. By putting Garner in a choke hold, he was violating the rules he was bound to as a police officer. He did not have the authority to use that force.
A few days after Garner's death, Pantaleo was stripped of his badge and gun.
6. Garner died after the chokehold. His last words were, "I can't breathe."
His last words started trending on Twitter months later under the hashtag #ICantBreathe.
— Andrew Katz (@katz) December 3, 2014
7. Four medics at the scene didn't give Garner CPR.
In a cellphone video, one of Garner's friends showed that neither the EMTs nor the policemen at the scene were giving him CPR, even though he was clearly unconscious.
This was after Garner's head hit the concrete, according to a friend, and blood was coming out of his mouth.
The four EMTs were suspended for two days without pay.
8. A medical examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide.
On Aug. 1, 2014, the NYC medical examiner linked Pantaleo's chokehold to Garner's death, as well as "prone positioning during physical restraint by police."
9. There was a video of Eric's death.
Out of respect, we're choosing not to include the video. This description from a Time article should be enough:
- Orta’s video shows what appears to be one officer pressing Garner’s face into the sidewalk as other officers attempt to subdue him. On the ground, Garner can be heard repeatedly saying "I can’t breathe."
How about the guy who filmed Garner's death, Ramsey Orta? Well...
10. A grand jury indicted the man who filmed Garner's death.
He wasn't indicted for filming the incident. But Orta was indicted on weapons charges about a month after he filmed Garner's death. According to the Huffington Post:
- Orta testified that the charges were falsely mounted by police in retaliation for his role in documenting Garner's death, but the grand jury rejected his contention, charging him with single felony counts of third-degree criminal weapon possession and criminal firearm possession.
And then, in a twist of fate...
11. A grand jury did not indict the police officer who killed Garner.
See the New York Times for the story.
So selling untaxed cigarettes ended up in a man dying and a policeman not facing charges. How can we call this justice?
10 out of 1,000 American police officers are accused of misconduct.
23.8% of those have been accused of excessive force.
68% of felony defendants in the general population are convicted.
However, only 33% of police accused of misconduct are convicted.
(All these facts are via FiveThirtyEight).
You can find out more about police abuse by checking out this ACLU action manual here. It might be from 1997, but you'd be surprised how relevant (sadly) it still is nearly 18 years later.
The Harvard Kennedy School also has some good readings collected by its center on media, politics, and public policy that you should totally check out if you have the time.