MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md., December 5, 2014 — Grand juries in Ferguson and Staten Island have returned decisions not to indict police officers who killed unarmed men. The decisions put in question whether anything else will be done to further investigate or pursue either case.
While in Ferguson the witnesses could only narrate what they had seen, the killing of Eric Garner in Staten Island was recorded on video. That video seems to show almost the entire event.
Garner was approached by police because, as we learned later, he was selling non-taxed cigarettes on the street. He emphatically protested efforts by several police officers to arrest him. In the video, we see that as they try to arrest him, they put their hands on him and he brushes them off.
At this point another officer, who doesn’t appear to be wearing a uniform, sneaks up behind Garner, jumps up and puts him in a head lock. He brings Garner to the ground where he is handcuffed in the process that we have become accustomed to seeing in cop shows.
The video shows one of the officers pushing Garner’s head into the ground using his leg and body weight as leverage. Garner repeatedly tells the officers that he can’t breathe.
The video then shows an officer checking to see if Garner is conscious.
There are differences in the cases in Ferguson and Staten Island. There are also obvious similarities. Both Brown and Garner were large men, both made bad decisions just prior to being confronted and killed by police, both were African American, and both lost their lives when they didn’t have to.
Probably the most glaring commonality between these two cases is the action taken by the officers after the first confrontation. When confronted with a perceived dangerous individual, they escalated the situation. In both cases, the officers could have retreated or waited it out.
Then could have come back to arrest the individual — in the parlance of football, snap the ball and punt. Neither Brown nor Garner was putting anyone in danger when they were confronted. Claiming that Brown was in a dangerous state when he was confronted is self-serving for the police officer who ended his life, and illogical.
Retreating or waiting it out would have meant that they had not “stood their ground” and their pride would have been hurt. This is the mentality we have seen in cases when an armed citizen chooses to “stand his ground” or go after a dangerous individual, a la Zimmerman. It is also very ingrained in a male dominated, violent profession like law enforcement.
Should we expect anything different?
It is not surprising to find that many people who joint the police force crave excitement. They talk with great animation about “tough” neighborhoods and look down on officers who work in peaceful, upper middle class neighborhoods where the worst event is a lost dog or a drunk teenager. To them it is all about the “adventure.”
To many of us, even those who have served in the military, the use of deadly force by police appears to be excessive. A twelve-year-old boy was shot to death in Ohio while playing with a toy gun.
There are less radical ways to respond to violent situations. A step back is a better solution than pursuing and shooting or slamming a person to the ground.
Over all we need to train our peace officers better and get those who are only after adrenaline rushes to join the Special Forces or the SEALS.
After this type of event, there are always apologists. Peter King, a conservative Congressman from New York, was one of the first to try to put the blame for Garner’s death on Garner and not the police. He said that if Garner had not been obese and suffered from asthma and heart disease, he wouldn’t have died from the head lock and following trauma inflicted by police. In his insensitive interview, King never once commiserated on the fate of Garner.
There is no chance that Congressman King has ever been thrown down to the ground with a head lock and then had his head pushed down into the concrete like Garner’s was. Even for healthy, young individuals, this treatment can be extremely traumatic. Young, healthy people die from common every day falls on a hard surface.
Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist, has been slammed down to the ground and knows how painful it is. He can be found on Twitter (@chibcharus), Google+ and Facebook (Mario Salazar).