In The Michael Brown Case, Update 8: A Divided People, I analyzed the primary difference dividing Americans these days: many Americans respect and defend the rule of law; others have no respect for the rule of law, demanding “social justice” instead. Social justice has certain advantages: its definition is fluid as are its goals. It is as based in racism as its requirements and principles are infinitely changeable to provide political and financial profit to those advocating it. The rule of law encourages stability; social justice revels in chaos in the name of “change” and “reform.”
And so we come to the newest rallying cry of social justice: the Eric Garner case in NYC.
Local businessmen called the NYC police to complain about 6’3”, 360+ pound Eric Garner, a black man selling loose cigarettes on the sidewalk in front of their businesses. Garner, a convicted felon with 31 prior arrests including assault, was frightening customers and violating a New York City ordinance against selling loose cigarettes (primarily a measure to ensure maximum tax revenues). Several officers, supervised by a black female sergeant, tried to arrest Garner, but he refused to obey the officers and resisted arrest. One of the officers applied a chokehold and took Garner to the ground where he was handcuffed. Unfortunately, Garner, who suffered from high blood pressure, asthma, diabetes, and morbid obesity, died, apparently rapidly.
In due order, a grand jury, which heard from at least 50 witnesses, declined to indict the officers involved. Predictably, in these days where unfounded cries of racism fly as easily as snowflakes in winter, Garner has become the latest social justice martyr. “I can’t breathe,” which he is said to have uttered while being arrested, has become the latest call and response chant during violent nationwide protests.
I’d enjoy Michael’s Brown’s refrain repeated by chanting crowds: “You’re too much of a pussy to shoot me!” That would have a nice, ironic quality, particularly if followed by gunfire. NOTE: I’m not advocating shooting protestors–rioters, of course–but not protestors. It’s irony.
Unlike the Michael Brown case, the proceedings of the Grand Jury will not likely ever be released to the public. They are normally secret. Missouri has a “sunshine” law that could be—and was—interpreted to allow the release of the proceedings of that grand jury. There is apparently no such law in New York.
Therefore, I will not be commenting in any real depth about the evidence in this case. I simply don’t know enough about the facts. I have seen only the brief video of his takedown, which was utterly unremarkable, and did not depict a chokehold. People are often upset when they see multiple officers wrestling with a single criminal. It somehow seems to upset a vaguely defined sense of fair play. Cops should fight it out with criminals one on one and let the better man win!
In real life, things don’t work that way. The Police have to arrest people using the minimum necessary force. They use multiple officers whenever they can to keep from having to use excessive force. The multiple officers did that. They waited until they had enough officers to wrestle the enormous, resisting Garner to the ground. The officer with his arms loosely–watch the video and see what I mean–around the area of Garner’s enormous neck was not applying a choke hold which requires compressing the front of the neck to cut off breathing, or simultaneously compressing both carotid arteries on the sides of the neck to interrupt blood flow to the brain. The first technique is not taught to police officers, in fact they’re specifically taught not to do it, because it can cause anatomic damage and death, and the officer in the video, at least for the relatively few seconds I saw, did not use that technique. Most police academies no longer teach the second technique because if applied for too long, it too can kill. They normally teach compressing only one side of the neck, and there are careful procedures to be followed after using it. I didn’t see this either.
All I saw was an officer grabbing the much larger Garner and upsetting his balance to make him fall over. Exactly what happened thereafter, I’ve no idea, but up to that point, the officers behaved reasonably, and were not in any way using excessive force.
I do not know what happened thereafter.
None of this, however, has not stopped the advocates of social justice, and other commentators who should know better, but are apparently caught up in the emotion of the moment. Emotion, not reason, is the very currency of the social justice movement.
I address only, and briefly, some of the false and misleading arguments made against the grand jury’s decision and turning Eric Garner, like Michael Brown, into a tragicomic hero.
We begin with NYC Mayor, the communist/socialist Bill DeBlasio. Michael Goodwin of the New York Post notes:
Determined not to let a crisis go to waste, the mayor has spent the last two days cranking up the volume and the vitriol of his anti-cop agenda. Predictably, he trots out his son, Dante, to put a personal spin on police-black relations, saying he is fearful the biracial teen will end up in a confrontation with a cop.
Imagine that. The city is in turmoil over the Staten Island case and the mayor throws gasoline on the fire by painting the entire police force as a bunch of white racist brutes. Has he no shame?
He certainly has no facts. In addition to the not-so-minor detail that the police force is now an impressive mix of races and ethnic groups, crime statistics leave no doubt that any harm to befall Dante de Blasio likely would come from another nonwhite, non-cop male. Those stats show that, year in, year out, about 90 percent of homicides involve a nonwhite man killing another nonwhite man.
Far too many pundits are moaning that Garner was killed for a minor misdemeanor: selling loose cigarettes. This is, at best, misleading. It’s true he was arrested for that offense, but he died because he resisted arrest and because he was medically fragile. Garner probably did not expect to die when he resisted arrest, and the officers surely did not expect that either.
If Garner simply submitted to arrest–he had a great deal of experience with that–he would have been booked and promptly released. He knew the system well, and he knew his fragile medical condition. He made the choices that resulted in his death, a death the police could not reasonably predict.
On the December 5, 2014 edition of Fox and Friends, the execrable Geraldo Rivera actually advocated taking firearms away from the police and giving them Tasers. Tasers are not magical Star Trek devices with a “stun” setting. People die as a result of being tased, particularly people with fragile health and/or cardiac conditions. Rivera is, sadly, not alone in making inane suggestions.
We must be careful for what we wish; we just might get it. Many pundits and “activists” are screaming for “reform,” but few have any rational idea what that might entail. Yale Law professor Stephen L. Carter, writing at BloombergView, has an interesting take on the law:
On the opening day of law school, I always counsel my first-year students never to support a law they are not willing to kill to enforce. Usually they greet this advice with something between skepticism and puzzlement, until I remind them that the police go armed to enforce the will of the state, and if you resist, they might kill you.
I wish this caution were only theoretical. It isn’t. Whatever your view on the refusal of a New York City grand jury to indict the police officer whose chokehold apparently led to the death of Eric Garner, it’s useful to remember the crime that Garner is alleged to have committed: He was selling individual cigarettes, or loosies, in violation of New York law.
The obvious racial dynamics of the case — the police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, is white; Garner was black — have sparked understandable outrage. But, at least among libertarians, so has the law that was being enforced. Wrote Nick Gillespie in the Daily Beast, ‘Clearly something has gone horribly wrong when a man lies dead after being confronted for selling cigarettes to willing buyers.’ Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, appearing on MSNBC, also blamed the statute: ‘Some politician put a tax of $5.85 on a pack of cigarettes, so they’ve driven cigarettes underground by making them so expensive.
“Understandable outrage”? There is no known or apparent evidence of a racial motive to the officer’s actions. A black, female sergeant supervised Garner’s arrest. What’s the racial outrage quotient of that? Was his arrest somehow sexist? But Carter is partially correct in a sense on a point I’ve often made: no legislator should write any law they don’t truly want enforced, and as Carter notes, they shouldn’t write any law over which they’re unwilling to incur deaths.
This may sound inherently reasonable–just do away with any law not worth a citizen’s death–but it’s far more complex than that. People die every day when they decide to run from the police after committing minor misdemeanor traffic violations. In their flight, they sometimes cause accidents, seriously injuring or killing innocents. Did they die over a speeding violation or a stop sign violation? They died because they chose to flee from the police, because they made a choice that endangered, perhaps ended their lives and the lives of others. Should we then do away with all misdemeanor traffic violations? We know they save lives.
Perhaps we can remove at least the power of police to use force to make misdemeanor arrests? But then again, do we want people to be able to punch others in the face in front of police officers–that’s a misdemeanor as long as there isn’t serious damage–who are then obligated to let them walk away should they resist?
The truth is that police don’t kill people because they’ve committed a misdemeanor or a felony, they kill them because people–regardless of the crimes they’ve committed–choose to put police officers and others in imminent threat of serious bodily harm or death. Whether such people only ran a stop sign or committed an axe murder is irrelevant to an officer facing deadly force.
In cases like Garner’s, there is no known evidence–and the Grand Jury apparently found none–that the officers intended to cause his death, or that they were negligent in his death. How does one legislate against that? What can be prevented, other than no longer allowing the police to use necessary force to make arrests?
Finally, as far too many have suggested, the fact that Garner was black and most of the officers involved weren’t–somehow the black female supervisor escapes their notice–is being offered as prima facie evidence of racism, or as Professor Carter called it, the “obvious racial dynamics” have provoked “understandable outrage.” There is no evidence whatever that Garner would have been treated any differently if he were white.
Incidents of officers mistreating medically fragile white people–as in the Adam Greene case–barely move the understandable outrage meter’s indicator needle, even when such cases are truly outrageous. Apparently the outrage of some people is selective, particularly where the wrong colored people are the genuine victims of police abuse. One might be forgiven for thinking that to be actual racism.
“But America had an unfortunate history of racism!” Had. A history that was, until the age of the great racial healer, Barack Obama, just that: history. The Civil Rights movement won. It achieved its goals, not just in law, but in fact and practice. It is decades of progressive enforced dependency on big government that has left generations of black citizens in desperate straits and left some thinking themselves entitled to the wealth and property of others. This is considered by some to be progress.
Ultimately, we must face the reality that there is no “reform,” no “justice” that will be acceptable to the advocates of social justice. They don’t accept the rule of law, principles that apply to all regardless of a desired outcome. Many use real or imagined violations of social justice to commit crimes with impunity. Others take advantage of circumstances to gather political power or to enrich themselves. Some just like keeping people at each other’s throats. For such people, even the indictment and conviction of officers in the Brown and Garner cases would have been little more than evidence of rampant racism in American society, and surely not evidence that the system worked properly. For them, there will always be a new Trayvon Martin.
Such people don’t care about Eric Garner and Michael Brown. They care about their color and how it can be used to their advantage. Without the rule of law, they’ll continue to get away with it.