Unsurprisingly, I’m receiving strong reactions, pro and con, in response to this section of the Morning Jolt:
Every Once in a While, the Cop Isn’t the Good Guy in the Story
There are a lot of times where we in the conservative world greet claims of police abuse with great skepticism, suspecting that a criminal is attempting to get attention, sympathy, publicity, and/or a lucrative financial settlement out of actions that just represent police officers doing their job.
The case of Eric Garner isn’t one of those times.
For starters, this is not the typical “one side claims X happened, the other side claims Y happened” dispute. The incident was caught on videotape. We can watch the chilling moment as Garner literally gasped, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe” as the cops were on top of him.
Secondly, the New York City medical examiner declared the victim’s death a homicide. Uh-oh.
Eric Garner, the Staten Island dad who complained that he couldn’t breathe as he was subdued by cops, died from compression of the neck, the medical examiner said Friday.
The autopsy also found that compressions to the chest and “prone positioning during physical restraint by police” killed Garner. The manner of death, according to the medical examiner, was homicide.
Garner’s widow told the Daily News she was relieved that the coroner finally confirmed what she suspected since her husband died on July 17.
Rarely do I see two guys I respect so greatly disagreeing with such vehemence as Wednesday afternoon’s debate between our Charlie Cooke and Ace at the Ace of Spades.
Frankly, I think everyone on the right is looking to prove “We’re not one of those sorts of people who automatically defends anyone who kills a black person.”
And we did that in three Racial Incidents running. I know my first reaction in both Trayvon Martin’s case, and in Michael Brown’s case, was to side with the black victim.
And maybe this is the wrong time to put my foot down, but I’ve been suckered twice, and I won’t be suckered a third time.
Did Eric Garner deserve to die? No. The crime that began all this was selling “Loosies,” single cigarettes out of the pack, in defiance of the state tobacco tax laws and all the other nonsense laws they throw on people about only selling things in their original packaging. Minor [stuff]. Nonsense.
And yet, he defied police orders when they attempted to arrest them. When they tried to cuff him, he defied them again, pulling his arms away. He decided, as a Jury of One, that the law was silly and he would not be being arrested today.
I can’t entirely blame him for feeling that way, but I know that if the police attempt to arrest you for a law which you are in fact breaking, even if you think it’s a minor harassing sort of law, you do not have the right to resist arrest.
What followed is what follows in all resisting-arrest cases: some escalating violence as the police attempt to physically impose their will on the noncompliant suspect.
Some number of such situations will result in the death of the suspect.
I guess I just don’t understand how we say this guy is guilty of manslaughter, given that in almost all cases where a guy’s heart just gives out in a struggle, we could find some error in procedure as a hook to throw the guy in jail for.
This is a tragedy, in my mind. Eric Garner wasn’t much of a criminal threat, and the police did seem too eager to use force.
Nevertheless, we actually pay them to use force when a law-breaking suspect (even one breaking a trivial law) resists arrest. That is the job we’ve given them.
To say this guy is guilty of murder or manslaughter seems to me to be a case of scapegoating the people we’ve tasked with implementing a policy that we have imposed ourselves.
Let me turn to Sean Davis for the case for a manslaughter charge:
New York’s statutes on manslaughter are pretty unequivocal. Just going on the plain language of the law, the police officer who killed Garner certainly appears to be guilty of second-degree manslaughter at the very least:
§ 125.15 Manslaughter in the second degree.
A person is guilty of manslaughter in the second degree when:
1. He recklessly causes the death of another person; or
2. He commits upon a female an abortional act which causes her death, unless such abortional act is justifiable pursuant to subdivision three of section 125.05; or
3. He intentionally causes or aids another person to commit suicide.
Manslaughter in the second degree is a class C felony.
The second-degree manslaughter charge requires only two factors: 1) the person charged must have caused the death of the victim, and 2) the perpetrator must have caused the death of the victim via reckless means.
As the video shows, the officer clearly caused the death of Eric Garner, who was alive until the officer put him in a chokehold, a move which is banned by the NYPD for good reason. And why did the police department ban chokeholds? Here’s an article on the subject from 1993, when a previous police chief banned the practice:
The New York City Police Department has issued an order banning the use of choke holds, the restraining maneuvers that cut off the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain and have been blamed in the deaths of suspects here and around the nation.
So an officer used a banned practice that is known to lead to the deaths of people who are subjected to it? That certainly seems to satisfy the second condition of a second-degree manslaughter charge. And again, I have to stress that the entire incident was caught on tape. The evidence is unequivocal. And yet, no indictment.
One other deeply troubling wrinkle to this story:
Four EMS workers who responded to the arrest of a man who later died in police custody have been suspended without pay two days after an eight-year veteran of the NYPD was stripped of his badge and gun for allegedly using a chokehold while handcuffing the man.
The EMS workers, who have not been identified, included two EMTs and two paramedics. The workers are not city employees but work for Richmond University Medical Center, according to the FDNY. They were first placed on modified duty, and then hospital officials announced Monday the workers were being suspended and would not be allowed to work at the hospital or throughout the 911 system.
Cellphone video captured the arrest of 43-year-old Eric Garner Thursday evening, and showed him saying “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe” as he was brought to the ground by an officer using a chokehold, a tactic prohibited by NYPD policy.
A friend of the victim showed NBC 4 New York new cellphone video Monday that showed the response moments later as Garner lay on the ground, not moving: the paramedics, EMTs and police peer over Garner, and none administer CPR.
I come closer to Charlie and Sean than Ace on this one. I understand some will scoff at civilians second-guessing the decision of cops trying to get handcuffs on a big guy who’s resisting arrest. But the moment Garner started gasping, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,” those cops had an obligation to treat his claim of breathing difficulties seriously. Between their actions and the EMT workers’ inaction, they failed to fulfill their oaths and honor their positions of trust and authority.
Yesterday, we discussed how federal prosecutors in the Department of Justice declined to try George Zimmerman on federal charges and are unlikely to pursue them with Officer Darren Wilson; in those cases, the burden of proof is just too high and the odds of a successful conviction are just too low.
In this one, if I were a federal prosecutor, I’d be happy to take those odds with that video.
And beyond the federal charges . . .
A grand jury voted not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of Eric Garner — but the eight-year veteran isn’t off the hook just yet.
Pantaleo — who was placed on modified duty after Garner’s death on July 17 — is still being investigated by the Internal Affairs Bureau, which is looking into his possible use of excessive force and may decide to charge him departmentally.
“If so, there will be a departmental trial,” a source said.
At the end of that trial, the Department Advocate’s office will make recommendations to Police Commissioner Bill Bratton as to whether Pantaleo should be fired, disciplined or go unpunished.
Ultimately, Bratton has the final say in his future on the force.