By: Aidan McKnight
Eric Garner, a father to six children, was killed on July 17th, 2014. His killer, Staten Island Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo, put the asthmatic Garner into a chokehold which was strictly prohibited by the NYPD, which ended up killing him. His crime? Allegedly selling loose cigarettes. From the NYPD’s perspective, the fatal chokehold was not the cause of death, but, rather a heart attack due to Mr. Garner’s obesity and asthmatic breathing troubles. However, the New York City Medical Examiner declared the death a homicide, which was ignored in the aftermath of that tragic day.
Based on the video of eyewitnesses and the corroboration of others, Garner initially drew attention to himself for breaking up a fight. Stopping a fight, in and of itself, is not a crime. If anything, it is stopping one. According to the NYPD, Garner was targeted for selling untaxed cigarettes, locally known as, “loosies.” On that day the officers viewed Garner as a direct threat to their lives and safety; a gang of eight armed men against one unarmed and non-combative, unresisting, man. If Garner was committing the heinous and vile crime of selling loose cigarettes, he certainly didn’t deserve to have his life stripped from him as punishment.
The encounter started with Garner saying, “Get away [garbled] … for what? Every time you see me, you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. It stops today. Why would you…? Everyone standing here will tell you I didn’t do nothing. I did not sell nothing. Because every time you see me, you want to harass me. You want to stop me (garbled) Selling cigarettes. I’m minding my business, officer, I’m minding my business. Please just leave me alone. I told you the last time, please just leave me alone. please please, don’t touch me. Do not touch me.”
Police approached Garner while his hands were clearly in the air, and, his only provocation was that he called for the officers to, “Please just leave me alone…” Before the handcuffs are even out, before Garner was even charged with a crime, or read his rights, Officer Pantaleo approached Garner from behind, and put the 350 pound man into a chokehold. From there, the still unresisting Garner was slammed onto the concrete. On the ground, Garner repeatedly yelled to the officers that he couldn’t breathe. Instead of violent resistance, or even verbally assaulting the officers, he only cries that he cannot breathe. His final words were, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.”
There are no winners in this case. If Mr. Garner were to resist the assault on behalf of the NYPD and Officer Pantaleo, he certainly would’ve been shot or tasered to death for doing so. The call for a non-indictment is an affront to justice. The police were acting outside of their legal authority, and the chokehold executed was banned by the NYPD. John Bad Elk v U.S., 177 U.S. 529, set the precedent that police officers acting outside of their legal and lawful duty are to be treated the same as criminals, and the people being violated have the right to resist arrest and personal harm, up to and including fatal self-defense. Two other excellent cases are Runyan v State, 57 IND. 80; Miller v State, 74 IND. 1., and State v Mobley, 240 N.C. 476, 83 S.E. 2d 100. The Runyan decision reads, “When a person, being without fault, is in a place where his right to be, is violently assaulted, he may, without retreating, repel by force, and if, in the reasonable exercises rights of self defense, the assailant is killed, he is justified.” In the State v Mobley case, the decision read, “Each person has the right to resist an unlawful arrest. In such a case, the person attempting the arrest stands in the position of the wrongdoer and may be resisted by the use of force, as in self defense.” The man who videotaped the encounter was indicted, but, the officers involved in choking a man to death were not. This is a clear cut case of police brutality. There is a serious and systematic problem in America’s police force if an unarmed man such as Eric Garner can be murdered, a homicide in the eyes of the Medical Examiner, on video, and not be charged for a crime. The death of Kelly Thomas at the hands of police officers, the son of a police officer, while he begged for his life and his parents, is another recent example. Officer Pantaleo has been assigned to desk duty performing ‘Crime Analysis.’ Pantaleo should’ve been charged with murder, or manslaughter, or negligent homicide, charged on counts of police brutality, and all other officers involved with this man’s death are accessories to the crime.
I’m not anti-police, I’m anti-police brutality. As public servants, their duties are to protect and serve. We should hold our public servants and those who swear an oath to uphold the Constitution to a high moral and ethical standard. If they act outside of their authority and harm an individual, they need to be legitimately punished in a court of law. Just because they enforce the law does not mean they are above it.