Eric Garner’s Death Penalty – Not a Left or Right thing, but a Wrong thing

Posted on December 7, 2014


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Pallbearers carry the casket of Eric Garner at Bethel Baptist Church. Photograph: Staten Island Advance /Landov

My analysis of the current national debate on the police misuse of authority and the particular focus on the racial aspect is bound to make certain people on either side of the question unhappy. It will displease them because the typical categorical judgments about police behavior and the race based perspective on the types of excessive force we’ve seen, are both off base.

It will disappoint those who look at everything through the lens of politics and prefer that issues be neatly classified between Republican and Democrat, Liberal and Conservative and Whites and Minorities.

The politics of the Michael Brown / Darren Wilson debacle and the Eric Garner killing, are not so much of interest to me as are the specific facts involved. The assumption that police are virtually always justified in excessive force or that such force is inadvertent in questionable instances, is a predominantly Republican view. Not an exclusively Republican view however, and there are some cracks forming in the GOP on this, especially among those of the Tea Party orientation.

I don’t care whether abuse of police authority and criminal behavior of police is sanctioned by one party or another, because I am politically independent. Logic and facts are primary and partisan policy is not even on the page. I cannot offer a blanket condemnation of law enforcement, but neither can I provide them a blank check for every action they take in the performance of their duties.

Eric Garner’s killing was a patently clear case of excessive force – among many in America today, and by no means exclusive to one racial group or another.

I’ve heard from people who condone what they witnessed on the video from the bystander’s phone. They say that the police were just doing their job and that Garner was ultimately responsible for his own death.

That was the viewpoint of New York’s largest police union, typical of police unions nationwide, who can be dependably relied on to – in all situations, defend excessive force and police behavior that in any other context would be obvious felony assault and battery. “We feel badly that there was a loss of life,” said Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. “But unfortunately Mr. Garner made a choice that day to resist arrest.”

There are a few problems with that, but the first I would pose to you would be that once law enforcement can toss our Constitutional system of protections against misuse of authority to the curb, and act as judge, jury and executioner of a citizen in the space of less than a minute or two, we’re not America anymore.

We’re not Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia – name any tyranny past or present, you wish – but not quite America – that “shining city on a hill” of Reagan’s farewell address. Did Eric Garner “make a choice” that day to die from a violent police mob attack?

Some of you were pleased, as was I, that Charles Barkley in a radio interview, defended the jury’s findings in the Michael Brown case. He made the reasonable point that the evidence indicated that Officer Wilson acted in self-defense and that many Black neighborhoods are troubled by crime and need police.

That was all fine, as far as it went, however Barkley has a tendency to not quit while he’s ahead. He went on to comment that, in reference to Eric Garner’s death at the hands of New York police, “When the cops are trying to arrest you, if you fight back, things go wrong. I don’t think they were trying to kill Mr. Garner. He was a big man and they tried to get him down.”

Is Charles Barkley himself, a bonafide poster boy for advocating strict enforcement of the law, and for that matter, obeying laws? Not if you consider his arrest record. Fox outlines an incident from 2009:

Charles Barkley told an officer following his arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol that he was in a rush because he was on his way pick up a “hot” girl for sex, according to a police report obtained by the Smoking Gun.

When Barkley was arrested in Scottsdale, Ariz., early Wednesday after running a stop sign, the former NBA forward allegedly told the officer: “You want to know the truth? I was gonna drive around the corner and get a blow job,” according to the notes in the incident report.

In 1997, Barkley was arrested in Orlando, Fla., and charged with hurling a bar patron through a glass window after the man tossed a glass of ice at him. The case was settled after Barkley was fined and performed community service. Barkley punched a bar patron in Scottsdale, Arizona in 1993 and was arrested for breaking a man’s nose in a Milwaukee tavern in 1991. Barkley, as a famous athlete, would never be subject to the treatment Eric Garner received.

Frank Serpico, is an ex NYPD Detective and the subject of an epic 1973 movie about police corruption starring Al Pacino. Serpico, commenting on the death of Eric Garner:

Was I surprised by the Staten Island grand jury? Of course not. When was the last time a police officer was indicted? This is the use of excessive force for no apparent reason on a guy who is selling loosie cigarettes; what is the threat to your well-being? If a police officer’s life is in danger, he has every right to use every force in his means to defend himself. But today, we have cops crying wolf all the time. They testify “I was in fear of my life,” the grand jury buys it, the DA winks and nods, and there’s no indictment.

Evidently though, aside from Mr. Serpico, I am not the only conservative that finds Daniel Pantaleo’s exoneration by the Staten Island Grand Jury outrageous.

“This is not Ferguson, Missouri,” Andrew P. Napolitano, the former judge and longtime Fox News analyst, said on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show. “This is not somebody wrestling for your gun. This is not where you shoot or be shot at. This is choking to death” a person “whose only crime was selling cigarettes without collecting taxes on them. This does not call for deadly force by any stretch of the imagination.”

Russell D. Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said on a podcast that “there is no excuse that I can think of for choking a man to death for selling illegal cigarettes.” He added, “We have it on video with the man pleading for his life.”

“The grand jury’s decision not to bring any charges against the officer who killed Garner is inexplicable. It defies reason. It makes no sense,” wrote Sean Davis at The Federalist. “Unlike the Michael Brown case, we don’t have to rely on shaky and unreliable testimony from so-called eyewitnesses. We don’t need to review bullet trajectories or forensics. All we have to do is watch the video and believe our own eyes.” 

Fox News syndicated columnist and contributor Charles Krauthammer and I seldom share an entirely common perspective, but I was pleasantly surprised when Krauthammer opined that the grand jury’s decision to not indict was “totally incomprehensible. “I think anybody who looks at the video would think this was the wrong judgment.”

I don’t need other conservative opinions to validate my own take on what happened to Eric Garner and why the Staten Island Grand Jury was dead wrong in not indicting Mr. Pantaleo, who has previously been successfully sued for misconduct while on duty, but knowing I’m not alone in my analysis, is a nice affirmation.