THE NEW YORK City Medical Examiner has found that a police chokehold killed 43-year-old Eric Garner during an arrest for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. The death has been ruled a homicide.
This is not news for those of us who watched the videotape of the encounter that killed Garner. Anyone who saw the father of six saying, “I can’t breathe!” as police officer Daniel Pantaleo choked him from behind knew that this was a homicide. The only remaining question is this: Will anyone be charged?
Already, in what can only be called a preemptive move, the police have tried to justify what happened.
Anyone who saw the father of six saying, “I can’t breathe!” as police officer Daniel Pantaleo choked him from behind knew that this was a homicide. We also knew that there would be those who would try to justify what happened.
Citing the Medical Examiner’s report, which said Garner’s acute and chronic bronchial asthma, obesity and hypertensive cardiovascular disease, were contributing conditions in his death, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, a New York police union, is attempting to deflect responsibility.
In a classic blame-the-victim statement, the organization extended condolences to Garner’s family while hinting that Garner’s health problems were partially to blame. The statement went on to drop this bomb: “We believe, however, that if he had not resisted the lawful order of the police officers placing him under arrest, this tragedy would not have occurred.”
Eric Garner and the chokehold homicide
Okay, well here’s what I believe. I believe if New York was not financially dependent on it’s $4.35 cigarette tax, the highest in the country, no one would bat an eye if a man sold 50-cent cigarettes on the sidewalk.
I believe that Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the eight year veteran who approached Garner from behind and choked him to death in a killing that has been ruled a homicide, should never have been on the street in the first place.
I believe that Pantaleo, one of four officers involved in Garner’s deadly arrest, should have been stripped of his gun and reassigned to desk duty after the last time he engaged in this kind of outrageous behavior.
A father of six who is allegedly selling loose cigarettes on a Staten Island street should be issued a ticket and asked to pay a fine. He should not be put in a chokehold and forced to pay with his life.
In one lawsuit, which was settled, two black men in their 40s accused Pantaleo, who is white, and other officers of subjecting them to a strip search on a Staten Island street, and ordering them to pull their pants and underwear down, squat and cough.
In a second lawsuit, a man accused Pantaleo and other officers of lying on a police report to justify charges that were eventually dismissed.
What else do I believe? I believe that no matter what the Founding Fathers actually meant when they said all men are created equal, they said it, and we ought to hold them to what they said.
Eric Garner deserved better. We all do.
That means a father of six who is allegedly selling loose cigarettes on a Staten Island Street should be issued a ticket and asked to pay a fine. He should not be put in a chokehold and forced to pay with his life.
That means that no matter how many times a man has been arrested, he should be judged according to the evidence presented in each individual case.
That means no matter where you live, no matter who you are, and no matter what you look like, you should be treated with respect by police, because their job is not to terrorize. It is to protect and serve.
Unfortunately, in the case of Eric Garner, that didn’t happen.
Instead, New York, in its quest to collect taxes from cigarette sales, put profits before people, put Eric Garner in a chokehold, put the Constitution on the back burner, and put a homicide on the books.
When I think of the fact that Garner essentially died in what amounts to a turf war over cigarette sales, it takes my breath away. But I can get my breath back. Eric Garner cannot.
We now know his death was a homicide. Someone should pay for that crime.
Click here to read “Eric Garner died in a government drug war,” by Solomon Jones
Photo: Doug Phaneuf hands a newspaper to a pedestrian while offering information to passers-by about a rally for Eric Garner, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014, in the Staten Island borough of New York. Garner died after he was put in a chokehold while being arrested last month for selling untaxed loose cigarettes. On Friday, the medical examiner ruled Garner’s death to be a homicide caused by a police chokehold. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Solomon Jones is an Essence bestselling author and award-winning columnist. He is the creator and editor of Solomonjones.com. Click here to learn more about Solomon