If you are not familiar with the events leading up to Eric Garners death, here is a brief recap. In July 2014 in New York , police confronted Garner outside of a market in New York City on suspicions of illegally selling cigarettes without the appropriate tax stamps.
I am not going to debate about whether Mr. Garner resisted arrest. For the sake of this argument, I am going to say Mr. Garner resisted arrest, because it does not change the outcome. Police officer, Daniel Pantaleo at that moment, did what he was “trained” to do. He placed Mr. Garner in a choke hold and brought him to the ground.
The problem comes in about 2 seconds after Mr. Garner is on the ground. Let’s remind ourselves Officer Pantaleo was not working alone. Several officers were assisting. The moment another officer had Mr. Garners arm behind him, Pantaleo should have let go of the choke hold. The subject was restrained. He then releases the chokehold, and holds Garner’s head to the ground. All the while, Garner is crying out over and over “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe”. He was restrained and had at least 4 officers hovering. Garner wasn’t bluffing. He could not breathe.
This is the video captured of the event. Please note, it contains images that might be disturbing to some.
People like to get caught up on the resisting arrest part, they seem to forget we are talking about a misdemeanor accusation. He wasn’t the local gang leader, he wasn’t a drug dealer, he did not pose a threat to the community, he was unarmed. We can’t even be sure he was selling cigarettes, though he had been arrested in the past for petty crimes.
Officer Pantaleo didn’t take into consideration Mr. Garners size, or his medical history before he slammed him to the ground and limited his air supply. Officer Pantaleo didn’t see a human being he saw merely a criminal. He did not exercise discretion, he followed protocol. He acted like he was trained to act, but not taking into consideration any variables for his specific encounter. Officer Pantaleo acted without regard to human life.
When someone is breaking into your house, you call the police. When your child has been kidnapped, or your ex is holding you hostage, you call the police. The duty of the New York and every other police department is to PROTECT and SERVE. And if you didn’t get the memo, that means protect and serve US. All of us. Even the criminals. Constitutional rights extend to every single resident of this country, even the ones who break the law.
As a society, we have become very numb to occurrences like this. I have heard “He shouldn’t have resisted arrest” and “that’ll teach him to break the law, won’t it” No. It doesn’t teach him not to break the law, because he is dead. He didn’t learn any lessons, but the residents of the community got a lesson. They heard, Police officers don’t treat you like a person, they treat you like a task.
For those of you who haven’t studied criminal justice, here is a quick lesson. It has been proven over and over that retribution for crimes does not decrease crime. And many still think that jail is a form of retribution, but it’s not. Jail is to house criminals that are a danger to society. Rapists, murders, pedophiles and so on. When someone commits a misdemeanor, they are not sent to JAIL, they are sent to the Detention Facility. And jail and the detention centers are both part of what branch of justice? Someone in the back? Corrections yes, the Department of CORRECTIONS. The stated goal is to rehabilitate that criminal. Let’s not pretend it works, lets just define it.
So let’s pretend that Mr. Garner was selling cigarettes and not paying Uncle Sam his fair share and let’s say you decided that Mr. Garner was resisting arrest. What does protocol say when the subject says they can’t breathe? What does protocol say about a subject in excess of 300 lbs with asthma? Does protocol have a protocol for that?
The police have a duty to protect and serve. And yes I am a firm believer that there are times excessive force is needed and warranted. If the bad burglar is holding a gun to my head, I am probably not going to be upset if the officer choke holds him, but those rules don’t apply here. Mr. Garner didn’t have to die. If Officer Pantaleo had taken a moment to think about Mr. Garner as a human being and not a subject in a book on protocol, he might still be alive today. If Officer Pantaleo had remembered what his duty was, to protect and serve, he might have handled things differently.
Just this past Friday a judge recommended that Officer Pantaleo be fired from his job. The NYPD commissioner has about 2 weeks to make the final decision. Officer Pantaleo should be fired. He failed to exercise human variables in his reactions. He treated Mr. Garner no differently than he would have a rapist or an armed gunman. We want our country to respect police officers, but if we allow things like this to go unpunished, we will never get that. Not firing Officer Pantaleo says that there is no protocol for human consideration and the police are just programmed robots waiting for the next command prompt.
I really want the police department to send the message to the community that they are on our side. That they are here to protect and support us and that some mistakes are not just ok. We are not just a protocol, we are human beings first. And right now, the only way to do that is to fire Officer Pantaleo.