When a white police officer kills an unarmed Black man, as it happened last week on Staten Island, you can expect a furious outrage from one part of the community and an attempt to justify the death from the other side.
It’s a no-win situation, especially for Eric Garner, who was manhandled and then taken down in a chokehold last Thursday outside a store in Tompkinsville. According to police, they were called to the scene by shop owners complaining that Garner, 43, a father of six children, was selling loose cigarettes, thereby hindering their sales and profit.
When the undercover officers arrived to apprehend Garner, he tried to explain to them that he had done nothing wrong. You can hear and see him on a video pleading with the officers, who may have at first hesitated handcuffing him until they had backup.
In the meantime, one of the officers, Daniel Pantaleo, eased behind Garner and locked his neck in a chokehold. The two tumbled to the pavement as other officers rushed to hold him down, one of them smashing his head into the cement.
“I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” Garner cries out, but to no avail.
Garner, more than 6 feet tall and weighing more than 300 pounds, and an asthmatic, was finally subdued, his breathing labored.
He was apparently still alive when the EMT workers arrived, but other than feel to see if he still had a pulse, they did nothing to assist him. Garner could have possibly been saved if he had been placed in an upright position, claimed Dr. Cyril Wecht, a noted pathologist. “You want to position him in a way to facilitate breathing,” Wecht told the press.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, at a press conference last Friday, said that Garner was taken from the scene in an ambulance and died upon arrival at the Staten Island Hospital, a victim of cardiac arrest.
Garner is the latest victim of an apparent chokehold and, according to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, there have been more than a thousand such reports since 2009, but only nine have been substantiated, and only one resulted in punitive measures being ordered.
Those four EMT workers have been placed on modified duty with a suspension of pay.
Two of the NYPD officers are now on desk assignment, with Pantaleo stripped of his badge and gun pending further investigation.
Early reports from the medical examiner indicate that Garner did not suffer any trauma to his trachea or windpipe. Even so, the forcible takedown of a man suffering from obesity, asthma and possibly heart disease could have been enough to induce a heart attack.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who delayed his trip to Italy by one day, told the press that “we shouldn’t jump to conclusions,” though the video that can be seen on YouTube shows clearly what happened. Meanwhile, for Bratton to cite Garner’s arrest record before offering his condolences seemed inappropriate.
“Even if police procedures don’t kick in,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton during a sermon last Sunday at Riverside Church, referring to the fact that chokeholds have been outlawed by NYPD since 1982, “when does your sense of humanity kick in? Have we gotten that cold?”