Warning: I have some strong opinions, which are expressed here with some mild “language.” As always, they are only my opinions and not those of any organization, entity or human I’m connected with, hence why they’re posted at “Patsy’s Ponderings.” Consider yourself fairly warned, and read at will!
I’ve watched a man die. He was choked to death by a police officer in Staten Island on a bright July afternoon. After he was restrained by a method that has been banned for about 20 years, he collapsed on the street and said 11 times, “I can’t breathe.” Four police officers watched him. A grand jury did not indict the police officer who choked him, even though the city’s medical examiners ruled Eric Garner’s death was a result of actions by the police.
Garner was pronounced dead at the hospital about an hour after the incident. The medical examiners concluded he was killed by neck compression from the apparent choke-hold by the police officer, along with the compression of his chest and prone position during his physical restraint by police. They also listed contributing factors like his size and medical conditions.
He may not have been the picture of health, but he was standing on the street before being approached by the police, not exhibiting any difficulties with his asthma, heart disease or obesity. And just to be clear – nature gets privileges to determine when our time is finished that are not extended to someone just because they have a badge, a gun and an attitude.
I am not an “anti-police” or “anti-system” person. In fact, just the opposite. I have had family and dear friends who are part of both of those systems.
I believe – still – that the majority of police officers are reasonable and respectful.
I believe – also – that we cannot overlook the fact that white police officers killing black men and boys is far too common.
What are we white people so damned afraid of? What? I’m not saying I’ve never been leary of a group of young black men who seemed to be feeling their oats a little too much. But I’ve also been leary of a group of young white men exhibiting the same behavior. And a group of young men of different colors doing the same. Why do black men and boys scare us so much? I’m not being flippant. It’s a real question. What are we so afraid of? And why are white men seemingly more afraid than anyone else?
I respect that police have to make decisions in the moment that are difficult and can have devastating consequences. I do not accept that a police officer approaching a man on the street who is doing nothing to raise suspicion, initiating contact, and his partner then choking him to death while he’s saying he can’t breathe, falls into that category.
We’ve seen far too many of these cases of black men and teenagers dying at the hands of those who believe they are “protecting” themselves and others. In most cases there are some unknowns, some uncertainties, some gray areas. In this case we can all see what happened because it’s on video. I am not seeing a lot of gray area. A police officer initiated contact with a man, accusing him of something all evidence indicates the man was not doing. His partner then proceeded to kill him. HE KILLED HIM. He killed him while the man was doing the equivalent of begging for mercy by saying, “I can’t breathe.”
You can spin it however you’d like, and as a public relations professional I’m certainly no stranger to how that works, but the facts in this case are that a police officer initiated an unnecessary interaction with a citizen and the citizen was then murdered by the police force. Did the officer intentionally murder Garner? I doubt it, although I’m not willing to say that for sure. I doubt he got dressed for work that morning thinking, “I’m gonna kill someone today.” But that officer’s history indicates he had some definite difficulties with knowing when to stop. It’s documented – not speculation.
The officer suspected Garner of selling loose cigarettes, something he had done before. Garner was obviously frustrated at being accused of something that there’s no indication he was doing. He did not respond to the officer in the gentlest way, but he didn’t threaten him either. Regardless, the other officer immediately went to an extreme measure to restrain him. Even if he had been selling loose cigarettes, isn’t that an offense that would be the equivalent of a parking ticket?
Understand, he was just standing on the street. He wasn’t doing anything except standing there. The police created the entire incident in which they murdered a citizen. On the street. In broad daylight. This particular precinct has a very large number of substantiated complaints against it, and the officer who killed Garner has had three cases where he has been specifically accused. It seems the police are cocky enough to believe they can kill someone on the street, without even the cover of darkness, and it’s okay. And, for reasons I cannot fathom, some people do believe it’s okay. This is not okay, people. It’s not. No! Not okay!
Even a grand jury has decided it was okay – that there’s no reason to have a trial for this murder. Fortunately, Attorney General Eric Holder feels differently and is launching a federal investigation. This is one of the reasons I’m a big believer in layers of government. Because sometimes people are just too damned ignorant to make wise choices, and another layer of government has to explain the error of their ways. I’ll just mention the Little Rock Nine here, if you need an example.
Garner did not have a circumspect record. Neither did the police officer. So, lets just assume they are equals in that they’ve both had some “difficulties.” But, thank God, we are not walking around in danger of being killed because of things we’ve done in the past. Well, at least not if we’re white.
Therein lies the rub. I’m a white girl who was raised in the south and has made my home in the midwest for a long time. I’m no expert on race relations. The community I live in is about 95% white. That’s not why I chose it to live in it – in fact, I didn’t even know that until I’d lived here for awhile. But the fact remains that other than a few years, I’ve lived in places with little racial diversity.
However, I have been fortunate enough to have real, honest interaction with people who are not walking through the world in white skin – at least it seems honest and real to me, although I have a feeling I’m only getting tip of the iceberg because they doubt I can handle the full story. Those in black skin grow up with different conversations. When they’re children, their parents tell them they can’t have the realistic looking toy gun because they know there’s a danger they might be shot by the police as a result. They learn to navigate the world differently. They pay attention to things those of us who are white don’t even notice.
The white girl in me was stunned by this knowledge and only through sheer determination could I fight off the idea of, “oh, you’re being overly sensitive.” I knew intellectually that wasn’t the case because I valued the opinions of those who were telling me these things. But I confess it took me some time to integrate this knowledge into myself as a way of “knowing” something instead of just having information.
I’m heartbroken to say that I no longer have any difficulty with that. It would be a much better world if my non-white friends were actually being overly sensitive and I was able to brush aside what I’m hearing as, “oh, it may have been that way at one time… but not now… we have a black president… ”
But I can’t. The body count won’t let me ignore the truth.
I know better.
I can’t breathe, either.