"You have to watch the whole tape" was the rallying cry of those who excused the most famous case of police brutality in American history, the beating of Rodney King, and it was this phrase that came to mind when video emerged of the sickening death of Eric Garner. Scant weeks before the killing of Michael Brown would place police killings of unarmed black men onto the front burner, the 43 year-old Garner was being rousted by the NYPD for allegedly selling loose cigarettes (or "loosies"), and when he protested his arrest, one officer put him in an illegal chokehold, while three others helped wrestle him to the ground. The whole thing was caught on a video in which Garner can be heard telling police he can't breathe. Several minutes later, Garner died. The video is devastating:
Well, a grand jury has "watched the whole tape" of what happened to Eric Garner on International Justice Day (no, I'm not kidding), and according to several news outlets, including NBC News, they have decided not to indict Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the killing you just witnessed on video. Not that it matters, but if there were ever a "perfect victim" to secure at least an indictment in a killing like this, it was Eric Garner. He was being hassled for suspicion of having too many cigarettes. You can see for yourself that he posed no threat, that he pleaded for his last breaths, and in a later video, you can see cops stand around letting him die, and Officer Pantaleo shooting the camera a snotty wave:
There has been no official announcement yet, but according to MSNBC, there is no expectation that there will be a lengthy presentation like there was in the Darren Wilson grand jury, but it's difficult to fathom what the grand jury's explanation could possibly be. Garner said he couldn't breathe, but black people lie? Was Garner "bulking up" to throw his loose cigarettes through their skulls?
There is something very wrong with the way grand juries are being conducted for police. This is not supposed to be a trial, it is a finding of probable cause that a crime was committed. The coroner ruled Garner's death a homicide, caused by the chokehold. The video shows he was unarmed and not a threat.
Justice might as well be a speck on the moon for Eric Garner, and the next Eric Garner. If there ever is an indictment in one of these cases, then there's going to have to be a trial to get through, and a bunch of disappointments in those, and if a cop is ever convicted in one of these, black people will still have to worry about not getting killed in the first place. The cop who killed Tamir Rice probably won't be indicted, just as John Crawford's killer wasn't indicted, and if that's not sickening enough, just wait until this guy goes to trial. Remember Lance Corporal Sean Groubert, who shot Levar Jones for doing exactly what Groubert told him to do? Here's the incredible dash-cam video, in which Jones can actually be heard apologizing to the officer who shot him for doing what he was told:
What do you think it will take to get a jury to hang on whether or not to convict him? Hint: like, one white juror.
Update: Officer Pantaleo, the guy glibly waving in the photo above, released this statement today:
“I became a police officer to help people and to protect those who can’t protect themselves. It is never my intention to harm anyone and I feel very bad about the death of Mr. Garner. My family and I include him and his family in our prayers and I hope that they will accept my personal condolences for their loss.”
Lots of folks are pointing out that there was one indictment in the Eric Garner case, of the guy who filmed his killing:
Despite his contention of a frame-up, Ramsey Orta's testimony didn't sway a grand jury, which indicted him on weapon charges, stemming from an Aug. 2 arrest, it was revealed in court Friday.
Orta, 22, who filmed an NYPD officer's fatal chokehold of Eric Garner last month, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in state Supreme Court, St. George.
Cops allege Orta stuffed an unloaded .25 caliber handgun into the waistband of Alba Lekaj, 17, outside the Hotel Richmond at 71 Central Ave., St. George, two weeks ago. Officers recovered the weapon, said police.
The defendant contends the charges are trumped up in retaliation for filming the Garner incident on July 17 in Tompkinsville.
See, you really do have to watch the whole video.
Update: MSNBC's Chris Matthews interviewed Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) this afternoon, and asked him about the decision. Paul's response was literally unbelievable. While "horrified" by the video of Garner's death, he said that the real problem (I'm not kidding) is that cigarette taxes forced that cop into the situation that ended with him killing Eric Garner:
"I think it is hard not to watch that video of him saying I can't breathe, I can't breathe, and not be horrified by it. But I think there's something bigger than just the individual circumstances. Obviously the individual circumstances are important. I think it is important to know that some politician put a tax of $5.85 on a pack of cigarettes so they've driven cigarettes underground by making them so expensive. But then some politician had to say we want you arresting people for selling a loose cigarette. For someone to die over breaking that law, there is really no excuse for it. But I do blame the politician. We put our police in a difficult situation with bad laws."
Jesus, I'm sorry I asked.
Eric Garner's widow, Esaw Garner, responded to Officer Pantaleo's statement at a press conference this evening. Suffice it to say, she was not trying to hear it:
"Hell no. The time for remorse would have been when my husband was yelling to breathe. That would have been the time for him to show some type of remorse or some type of care for another human being's life, when he was screaming 11 times that he can't breathe. So there's nothing that him or his prayers or anything else would make me feel any different. No, I don't accept his apology. No, I could care less about his condolences. No, I could care less. He's still working. He's still getting a paycheck. He's still feeding his kids. And my husband is six feet under. And I'm looking for a way to feed my kids now."
At about 4:10, Mayor Bill DeBlasio released the following statement:
“This is a deeply emotional day – for the Garner Family, and all New Yorkers. His death was a terrible tragedy that no family should have to endure. This is a subject that is never far from my family’s minds – or our hearts. And Eric Garner’s death put a spotlight on police-community relations and civil rights – some of most critical issues our nation faces today.
“Today’s outcome is one that many in our city did not want. Yet New York City owns a proud and powerful tradition of expressing ourselves through non-violent protest. We trust that those unhappy with today’s grand jury decision will make their views known in the same peaceful, constructive way. We all agree that demonstrations and free speech are valuable contributions to debate, and that violence and disorder are not only wrong – but hurt the critically important goals we are trying to achieve together.
“These goals – of bringing police and community closer together and changing the culture of law enforcement -- are why we have introduced so many reforms this year. It starts at the top with Commissioner Bratton - a strong, proven change agent. We have dramatically reduced the overuse and abuse of stop-and-frisk. We have initiated a comprehensive plan to retrain the entire NYPD to reduce the use of excessive force and to work with the community. We have changed our marijuana policy to reduce low-level arrests, and we have launched a new pilot program for body cameras for officers to improve transparency and accountability.
“These are the long term reforms we are making to ensure we don’t endure tragedies like this one again in the future. But we also know that this chapter is not yet complete. The grand jury is but one part of the process. There will still be an NYPD internal investigation. And we know the US Attorney is continuing her investigation. Should the federal government choose to act, we stand ready to cooperate.
“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – one of our nation’s most profound thinkers on these issues – taught us something very simple: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The problem of police-community relations and civil rights is not just an issue for people of color – or young people – or people who get stopped by police. This is a fundamental issue for every American who cares about justice.
“All of us must work together to make this right – to work for justice – and to build the kind of city – and nation – we need to be.”