“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. Last week, 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:
The Nation‘s Mychal Denzel Smith wrote beautifully and agonizingly about Garner’s death, and the never-changing state of black Americans’ relationships with police:
But this isn’t about one officer or even this one investigation. It’s not even about the more than 1,000 civilian complaints of NYPD employing illegal chokeholds since 2009. This about the disregard for black life and humanity that fuels policing. It’s about the amount of authority police have over our lives, deciding when and where we die. It’s about the daily harassment, the constant fear and the perpetual mourning. We can’t breathe.
“I was just minding my own business. Every time you see me you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. It stops today!”
For Eric Garner, it did stop that day. The harassment stopped when his life did. Must we all die for the abuse to end?
As I read Smith’s words, and watched that gut-rending clip, it was the rationalizations of white assholes that rattled around in my head, particularly “You have to watch the whole tape.” What would be the excuse that made this one all okay?
Then, along came Fox News with a report on a second video of the incident, “showing what happened after that suspect was taken down.” That second video was the entire peg for this segment on Fox’s The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson, but if you hadn’t already seen that second video, you might come away from this report confused, at best, or convinced that the second tape maybe showed Garner resisting. See, even though Carlson teases the second tape several times, the tape that plays during the segment is the original one, showing the takedown, as Carlson and a legal analyst talk about, yes, the NYPD’s illegal “apparent chokehold,” but also “that he did resist arrest,”and Garner’s own possible “contributory negligence.”
As an afterthought, Carlson adds “The EMS also is in trouble a little bit on this.”
They never show the second tape, and if you’ve seen the second tape, you know that they never even describe what was in it, even though the second tape was the entire peg for the segment. What that second video shows, for seven excruciating minutes, is Eric Garner’s lifeless, handcuffed body on the sidewalk as police do nothing to help him (unless a slap on the shoulder and the helpful advice to “breathe in, breathe out” counts as medical attention). When EMS shows up, they check his pulse, and load him onto a gurney. It also shows the cop who choked Garner out waving to the camera at the 6:55 mark.
That’s part of the reason “EMS also is in trouble a little bit on this,” because that second video shows that neither they nor the police took even the most basic steps to aid Garner on the scene. Other than that passing mention, there is nothing about Gretchen Carlson’s report that has anything to do with the video she introduces the piece with. When there’s no “rest of the tape” to watch, when there’s actually a second tape that is also unhelpful to the cops, this is what Fox News puts on the air.