If you’ve been visiting the website these last several months and reading the blogs Doc
and I put up, thank you very much. If you’ve even contributed to the conversation with a
comment or a question, an even bigger thank you is coming your way. I’m thinking a fruit and
cheese plate and a nice Northern California meritage; I’ll check with Doc about the budget.
Anyway—you’ve been reading and you know that I have a tendency to go pretty long with my
contributions. I also do my best to back up my arguments with some research in an effort to add
something meaningful to our internet discourse rather than detract from it.
Today, I can’t. Today, I just…can’t.
Today I don’t feel like being even handed, conciliatory, or give anyone the least bit of a
benefit of the doubt. I’m extremely frustrated and I don’t feel like justifying that I feel that way.
Please feel free to disagree with me. Leave a comment, ask a question—keep visiting the
website. If you enjoy my longer work, there will be more of it.
Just not today.
The grand jury that was convened to investigate the probable cause to lay charges against
Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the officer accused of killing Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York,
declined to indict December 3, 2014. If you were anywhere near a TV or social
media in July of this year, you saw the video that was shot of the officers taking Mr. Garner to
the ground; Officer Pantaleo was the one using the chokehold at the center of this controversy.
But, after the initial reporting, not much else was heard about this case. I think one could
attribute it to a local affair of not much national significance—there were no mass protests or
sustained violence after this incident (unlike in Ferguson). But, I think the presence of the video
could be the big difference. There was no serious dispute as to the facts: Mr. Garner was
verbally confrontational with the police, he was taken to the ground by four officers, yelled that
he couldn’t breathe, and then died. The medical examiner ruled it a homicide caused by the
chokehold and compression of Mr. Garner’s chest.
These facts are bad enough on their face; the video is horrifying to watch. The national
conversation, especially in the wake of non-indictment of Darren Wilson in Ferguson, is focused
on the racial tensions between African Americans and police. I have thoughts on that important
discussion, but my frustration with this incident, with the death of Michael Brown, even with the
death of Trayvon Martin, is this insistence that they somehow deserved what they got; that this is
somehow good police work (George Zimmerman wasn’t a police officer, obviously); that if you
resist, or go for an officer’s gun (even if you don’t get it) that death should be an expected
outcome; that we as a society should be ok with that.
Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown were unarmed. Eric Garner had a
criminal record; Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin were accused of being physically
aggressive. Michael Brown appeared to have taken some cigars from a convenience store,
according to the surveillance tape. I’m not arguing that these men were angels; I’m not arguing
that they were model citizens; I’m not arguing that their conduct was above reproach.
I’m arguing that NONE OF THAT MATTERS!
Concerning Michael Brown, several people I’ve talked to insist on pointing out that he
was a thief, went for Darren Wilson’s gun, and was intending to shoot Darren Wilson. I don’t
care—doesn’t matter. He was unarmed, was fleeing the scene (according to Wilson’s own
testimony) and Wilson was in his car. Rather than reengage, Wilson could have stayed in his
vehicle, called for back up, and pursued from a distance. Instead, Michael Brown is dead.
Eric Garner became verbally confrontational with police while selling loose cigarettes on
a public street. He started shouting at them. The video shows him possibly resisting the officers
putting hand cuffs on him; frankly, the officers step in so quickly it’s hard to tell. He’s taken to
the ground and held there, despite his insistence that he couldn’t breathe. At that point, the
officers could have eased the pressure and moved Mr. Garner into a position where his chest was
not being compressed. They could have saved his life. Instead, Eric Garner is dead.
Travyon Martin was killed by an armed private citizen. George Zimmerman declined to
disengage despite being told to do so by law enforcement. He could have left Trayvon Martin
alone; he could have waited for officers to arrive. Instead, Trayvon Martin is dead.
In each of these circumstances, there were alternatives to death. That I should have to
attempt to justify “alternatives to death” by itself is incredibly disturbing. But, let me try to put
this in perspective.
Eric Garner may or may not have been resisting arrest. In Iowa, resisting arrest is a
crime. If you resist arrest by a police officer, you can be charged with a simple misdemeanor. If
you injure the police officer during the resistance, you can be charged with an aggravated
misdemeanor—punishable by up to two years in prison. If you seriously injure the police
officer, or attempt to seriously injure the officer, you can be charged with a D felony—
punishable by up to five years in prison. In the video, it appeared that Mr. Garner moved his
hands away when the officers attempted to cuff him. This could be resistance, at which point, in
Iowa, he could be guilty of a simple misdemeanor—a maximum 30 day jail sentence or a
maximum fine of $625. Mr. Garner was killed while possibly committing a crime that very
likely would have seen him pay a fine amounting to less than half a months rent for an apartment
in downtown Des Moines.
Michael Brown may or may not have gone for Wilson’s gun. What seems undisputed is
that he didn’t get it and he was running away. In Iowa, given what may have been an assault on
Darren Wilson, Michael Brown could have been charged with a D felony. He could have done
some prison time, or been put on probation. There is no death sentence in Iowa for a D felony.
There is no death sentence in Iowa period.
That people don’t want to see any of these killings as racially motivated is
understandable; it’s an uncomfortable topic that requires some hard questions and some harder
answers. It’s naïve, but it’s understandable. That people think that the conduct of these
victims—conduct that would have gotten them jail time at worst—warrants death in the streets is
inexcusable. It’s disgusting. We should expect better from our police. We should expect better
Police officers have a very difficult job. I sympathize with the anecdotes I have heard
from highway patrol or city officers who have told me they sweat every traffic stop. I have
heard stories about ride alongs to execute search warrants that turned ugly. I am in no way
suggesting that police officers don’t face threats. I am saying that we expect our officers to be
trained effectively enough to assess a threat properly and deal with it reasonably. What
happened to Michael Brown and Eric Garner was not reasonable. It was not excusable. We
need to do better; Michael Brown and Eric Garner deserved better.
And that’s ALL they deserved.
aka Blake Lubinus