Rep. King, have police ever slammed you down to the ground?


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.

Eric Garner was a very large man, over six feet tall and weighing between 350 and 400 pounds. He appears to tower over the police officers in this confrontation. But did he have to die?

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).


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  • Monique DC

    We have been experiencing a “militarization” of our domestic police forces in the US over the last couple of decades. Additionally, almost all jurisdictions allow the police to conduct their own internal investigations over killings or other suspicious behaviors. These investigations rarely ever produce penalties or any consequences for the police being scrutinized. Over time this leads to a culture of permissiveness. When there are no consequences for unlawful (or even poor judgment) behavior, why should people restrain themselves? Morals, we would like to think, but there are sufficient research experiments that show us that when humans have power over other humans, it is a landscape for abuse.
    There is NO EXCUSE for using extreme force as the first choice in any interaction. There should be a bias toward de-escalation of a situation, not a knee-jerk, violent aggressive reaction. And police who kill citizens who are not armed should not be allowed to remain in the police force (any police force) while, simultaneously there should be independent investigations and these police should be held criminally accountable if the killing was not warranted.
    We justify illegal wars internationally under the intent to “democratize” those countries.
    Do the tanks and snipers in Ferguson look like democracy? Does the unnecessary tear-gassing of demonstrators show the world that US democracy is something to be practiced?
    We have to re-invent our domestic police forces. We have to hold those police who kill people without provocation criminally accountable for those killings. We have to get cameras on all police vehicles and on all police in uniform. This is the minimum that needs to be done in the short term.
    In the longer term, we have a great deal of work to do to correct the built-in racism inherent in the justice system and prison systems (I hope readers know that the US has the larger proportion of people in prison than any other developed country.)
    I applaud the people demonstrating against excessive police violence and brutality. I think they are showing great constraint – especially at a time when local leadership is woefully inadequate and citizens are begging for the federal government to step in to put things to right.
    (Sounds like a strong variation of the civil rights movement of the 60s…the target have changed but the institutionalized racism is clearly as strong as it ever was).

  • Mad Doc

    I have to admit, that I’ve read so many contrary reports on these killing as to leave me confused. We can not have police officers exercising street punishments. It would help if the Grand Jury discussions were made public. What was their reasoning? What testimony did they hear?
    I know in the Ferguson case, the Attorney General said many people who originally claimed to be witnesses, refuted their testimony when confronted with contrary evidence. (ie. tapes of the incident) Some people apparently had much to say in front of the media, but changed their tune when in front of a jury. (Where they could be charged with perjury, if caught in a lie)
    Being black does not make the victim guilty. The little bit of actual knowledge I have of the New York incident seems to indicate that the police badly over reacted.
    We need more openness of the Grand Jury proceedings, and less uninformed speculation.