Eric Garner was much beloved by his neighbors as the “gentle giant” of the neigborhood, a peaceful man known to help others in need. However, a few years ago, Garner accused some local police of sexually abusing him, charges made in a court document filed while he was in custody in Rikers awaiting trial.
This public document was later quoted in a Staten Island newspaper. Garner had accused an unnamed officer of handcuffing him after a traffic stop and sodomizing him, and when Garner protested he was going to file charges for this abuse, he was arrested and charged with multiple violations. It was a scene right out of The Bad Lieutenant. And it was Garner’s word against the cops, so he lost.
Apparently, Garner has been arrested several times since then and the charges are always selling black-market cigarettes, and/or possession of marijuana. So when a police crew confronted Garner in the street the other day, and immediately tried to handcuff him and place him under arrest, Garner protested. Can you blame him?
But Garner was immediately put into a choke hold and thrown to the ground, even though he complained he couldn’t breath and was in obvious distress. Two paramedics arrived at the scene, but administered no assistance, and simply watched Garner die from a heart attack while lying on his stomach wearing handcuffs, when they probably could have given him oxygen and saved him.
The initial police report did not mention a choke-hold initiating the heart attack, probably because police choke-holds are against policy in New York City, and not a legal police technique. The only reason this case exploded is because someone shot a video with a cellphone of what really happened and put that video online. And suddenly paramedics were suspended without pay, the police put on desk duty, and now all involved face huge civil suits, as does the city of New York.
The video is chilling to watch. “I’m tired of this, this stops today,” complains Garner, who neighbors say had just broken up a fight, which is why the police were responding in the first place. “I’m minding my own business officer. I didn’t sell nothing. Take your hands off me….I can’t breath….I can’t breath…I can’t breath…. (collapses and dies).
The incident is symptomatic of our drug laws at work, laws that unfairly target minorities and ramp up hostility between the police and ethnic neighborhoods. There is a great divide between the poor and our police and it is growing.