A Personal Perspective
BY MARCIA MOXAM COMRIE
As the dust started to settle in Ferguson, Mo., following the grand jury verdict in the Michael Brown police shooting case, here in New York City we awaited our own grand jury decision in yet another police brutality case.
It came once again against the victim and in favor of the police officer who killed the victim.
Eric Garner was just a middle-aged guy selling loose cigarettes on a Staten Island street corner who resisted arrest for that benign offense. Next thing he knew, he was in the chokehold of the arresting officer and brought to the ground where he remained – with a foot on his head for a time – as he begged for help.
“I can’t breathe,” he reportedly pleaded until the life left his body. No one heeded his cry for help. Not the arresting officers and not the EMS folks who arrived shortly thereafter. And the grand jury decided against indicting the officer.
Like Michael Brown, Eric Garner was unarmed. Whereby some have said that the 18-year-old Brown was aggressive toward Officer Darren Wilson, Garner, a 44 year-old “gentle giant” had his hands up in protest against being arrested as he backed away from Officer Daniel Pantaleo. He was resisting arrest, but he was not being aggressive nor was he verbally disrespectful. One can understand that an arresting officer will be annoyed with a “suspect” who resists arrest. One can even understand that the officer may get aggressive to get the job done and save face at the same time.
But under no circumstances would anyone expect that someone of Eric Garner’s age and poor health would be placed in a chokehold and forced to the ground in such a cruel manner. Most of all, most people would not have expected that officers and EMT personnel would let the man die for the lack of oxygen right there in front of them. All they had to do is sit him up and give him some oxygen.
The coroner ruled Garner’s death a homicide with contributing factors of asthma and weight-related issues. But the death was brought on by the “neck compression” Pantaleo gave him. Why then was he not indicted?
Mayor Bill de Blasio gave a quietly passionate speech following the verdict. Like me, and like so many others, in our City, he has a Black son. He’s a teenaged son to boot. If Dante were to take down that afro, he would lose the protection of being recognized on the street as the Mayor’s son and that would render him as vulnerable as any of our other Black teenaged sons. That is what Al Sharpton meant when he so in-artfully said it in that now famous panel discussion with the Mayor and police commissioner.
Sharpton is blunt. He’s not interested in softening his truth telling. That is why he told the Mayor, “If Dante wasn’t your son, he’d be a candidate for a chokehold!” The Mayor must’ve cringed, but he and his wife are well aware of that fact; and have said that it is an ongoing discussion with their son — just as it is with ours.
In my family, we’ve been having this discussion since our son was about nine. Even when he wanted a water gun I was afraid for him. It was a big colorful thing, but I still warned him he could only play with it in our backyard and to never point it toward the street because if a cop is passing by, it could be trouble.
We are so sick and tired of cops killing the men in our families that we ache in our hearts. And each time it happens, it goes unpunished. In fact, the only people who get punished when a cop kills an unarmed man, is the public who pays their salary. We have to pay again when the families bring civil suits against the City as redress for the murder of their loved ones.
Our tax dollars get placed in a chokehold to pay off these justifiable lawsuits.
Why is it that cops always have to use such excessive force? They killed the unarmed and completely innocent Amadou Diallo in a hail of 44 shots; 50-plus fired at Sean Bell and reportedly, the Ferguson cop emptied his gun on Michael Brown. These are human beings, how many bullets does it take to kill them; and why are you even killing them in the first place?
But back to the Garner verdict, chokeholds are prohibited in this City, so if these things follow logic then there should have been an indictment in this case given that the coroner said that Garner’s death was triggered by the neck compression Pantaelo had him in.
This verdict serves no justice for Eric Garner. His killer, like most others, gets off without so much as a trial. He is free to do as he pleases to anyone else he jolly well pleases. What did the grand jury see?
They were blind, racist or totally stupid; but they’ve put justice in a chokehold.