Death During Arrest: Another Case of Police Misconduct

A Personal Perspective
BY MARCIA MOXAM COMRIE

Just six months into his tenure and Mayor de Blasio is already dealing with a police misconduct case. That is an unfortunate way to start but unfortunately, police misbehavior toward people of color they consider suspects is not rare in this City.

However, it seems the only “law” that Staten Islander, Eric Garner broke was one many people had never even heard of: selling “loosies.” Yep, loosies – as in loose cigarettes being sold on the streets. If you are not a seller or a smoker, you’re probably not very familiar with this policy.

Officers were trying to arrest Mr. Garner on the sidewalk and he was harmlessly trying to avoid getting handcuffed because he didn’t think he had done anything arrest-worthy.

Reports are that he was trying to break up a fight he witnessed while standing around conducting his business as he considered it.

So in carrying out his own job, Officer Daniel Pantaleo decided to put the very burly Garner in a chokehold that took him to the ground. The problem is, chokeholds are supposedly a no-no. Garner was also asthmatic and kept repeating that he “can’t breathe.”

Civilian cellphone videos show about eight NYPD officers were at the scene and no one offered aide to this helpless man on the ground. Then an EMT brigade arrived and they also offered no assistance. Why the heck did they bother to come then! That poor man died right there on that sidewalk because he couldn’t catch his breath.

Police Commissioner William Bratton has stripped Pantaleo of his badge and gun and placed him on desk duty. That does not go far enough. He should be suspending every single officer who was at the scene. They may not all have put “the suspect” in the chokehold. But they are all culpable in his death since they did nothing to help prevent it.

Some of the TV talking heads are trying to make the point that this incident was not racially-motivated because there was at least one African-American officer in the group. So what? Just because one person in the group, “looks” like the victim, that makes this incident not about race? That logic is faulty even if the arrest and neglect were really not about that. But it probably was. If Eric Garner had been a burly blonde guy doing the same thing in the same spot, he would probably not have been attacked and treated in that same manner.

A man is dead because of a questionable arrest technique and then no one tried to help him when he showed signs of distress. And they need to stop referring to him as the “suspect” and start saying, “the victim.” To call him a suspect is stretching the definition. He wasn’t selling illegal drugs and he wasn’t attacking anyone. He was selling a few cigs. And he was certainly not a suspect of anything deserving of death. We, the public, ought to be collectively outraged regardless of race or ethnicity. Public outcry is important.

The officer and his colleagues have to be held accountable. And holding this group of officers accountable for this tragedy should not be seen as a moral indictment of an entire police department. There are more caring officers than uncaring ones; and there are more hero cops than cowards. The good ones perform honorably and go beyond the call of duty to ensure the safety of our citizens every day. They deserve our respect and gratitude.

But when any member of the police force does something this egregious, we have to cry foul and cry it loudly, regardless of who it offends in the short term.

Shame on the officers on the scene and shame on the EMT responders who did not do their job of trying to save a life!

Mr. Garner deserved better treatment than what we’ve seen on that terribly painful video; his family deserved better and our City deserves better too.

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