I’m in San Diego and I Can’t Breathe

by on December 5, 2014 · 0 comments

in Civil Disobedience, Civil Rights, History, Media, Politics

Eric Garner's last words

Eric Garner’s last words

By Doug Porter

The national chattering class finally found a dead black man they can get behind on Dec. 3rd as a grand jury in Staten Island refused to indict the policeman who was videotaped choking Eric Garner.

Since videos exist showing both the arrest and the subsequent four minute delay before officers attempted CPR, it’s not possible to easily weasel out of the conclusion this was -at a minimum- a case of criminally negligent homicide, as concluded by Fox legal expert Judge Andrew Napolitano.

The “best” lame excuses coming out of the flat-earther set were that Garner died because he was obese or that the “nanny state” laws taxing tobacco were to blame. Nobody’s called him a “thug”–yet.

Largely peaceful demonstrations (there were arrests for acts of civil disobedience) happened around the country, and are expected to continue into the weekend. Today I’ll share some of the reactions appearing in the news and social media.

Here’s the first few paragraphs of the Associated Press story appearing on page 4 of today’s UT-San Diego:

A Staten Island grand jury cleared a white police officer Wednesday in the videotaped chokehold death of an unarmed black man stopped for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes, triggering protests by hundreds of New Yorkers who likened the case to the deadly police shooting in Ferguson, Mo.

As the demonstrations mounted, Attorney General Eric Holder said in Washington that federal authorities would conduct a civil rights investigation into the July 17 death of Eric Garner at the hands of police Officer Daniel Pantaleo.

Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan said the grand jury found “no reasonable cause” to bring charges, but unlike the chief prosecutor in the Ferguson case, he gave no details on how the panel arrived at its decision. The grand jury could have considered a range of charges, from reckless endangerment to murder.

Here’s an earlier Associated Press story written prior to the grand jury decision:

The medical examiner has ruled that the chokehold of a police officer on a New York City man last month caused his death.

Medical examiner spokeswoman Julie Bolcer said Friday that Eric Garner’s July 17 death has been ruled a homicide.

Bolcer says his death was caused by “the compression of his chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.” She says asthma and heart disease were contributing factors.

Chokeholds Banned by NYPD 20 Years Ago

Here’s the Washington Post Wonkblog on the background of the chokehold:

For the second time in as many weeks, a grand jury decided not to indict a police officer for the use of excessive force. This time, however, the weapon of choice was not a gun, but a set of hands, used in an apparent chokehold on an asthmatic Staten Island man named Eric Garner — a tactic that, as it turns out, is forbidden by the NYPD.

This is what the NYPD patrol guide says, per the New York Law Journal:

Members of the New York City Police Department will NOT use chokeholds. A chokehold shall include, but is not limited to, any pressure to the throat or windpipe, which may prevent or hinder breathing or reduce intake of air.

That’s explicit. And it has been the department’s policy since 1993, shortly after an five officers were put on trial (four of whom were acquitted) for killing a 21-year-old by “traumatic asphyxia.”

From FiveThirtyEight.com

From FiveThirtyEight.com

Lawless Lawmen

Columnist Charles P. Pierce at Esquire looked at the role law enforcement currently plays around the country:

There are a whole lot of reasons for this, and we should decide if we’re still having national conversations about any of them, but one of the primary ones is that, in many places and in many cases, there is a fundamental contempt for the law among the people empowered to enforce it. And this is not just about the laws regarding ventilating your fellow citizens in the street, or choking them to death on camera. It is about the paperish regulations already in place to prevent what happened to, say, Amadou Diallo from happening to Michael Brown or Eric Garner. For example, the technique through which Daniel Pantaleo ended the life of Eric Garner has been forbidden by departmental regulations since 1993. The official autopsy on Eric Garner said that he died from being asphyxiated through the use of this technique. It called his death a homicide. And it is on video. You can see it. The chokehold is the first club out of Officer Pantaleo’s bag. Did the departmental regulation stop him? Did Eric Garner’s well-publicized killing — and Pantaleo’s well-publicized suspension — stop his brother officers from using a similar technique on a pregnant woman? No, these things only forced Pantaleo and his lawyers to come up with a creative explanation…

…This flaunting of both departmental rules and federal law on the part of local police departments is the clearest indication that they consider themselves beyond the law they are sworn to enforce. And why shouldn’t they? The systems by which they are supposed to be held accountable are intolerably weak, where they are not broken altogether. Where are the stiff fines for the police chiefs who ignore the requirements of federal law? What good are departmental sanctions when officers get filmed blithely using techniques that those sanctions supposedly banned two decades ago? It has become plain that, in far too many cases and in far too many places, local police departments have made of themselves what Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1776 concerning the use of British troops to enforce the law in the colonies — “independent of and superior to the civil power.” Once there, these departments operate with impunity according to the informal dynamics of American law and American justice that were born when the country was. And, among other things, that means more Eric Garners and Michael Browns and Tamir Rices, the latter a 12-year old shot down by a cop in Cleveland who’d been hired anyway despite the fact that responsibilities of being a cop in a suburb were too much for him. Makes me wanna holler, too.

Here’s Charles M Blow, writing in the New York Times, on the attempts by many pundits to dismiss or discount the racism in this country at the core of these events.

Today, too many people are gun-shy about using the word racism, lest they themselves be called race-baiters. So we are witnessing an assault on the concept of racism, an attempt to erase legitimate discussion and grievance by degrading the language: Eliminate the word and you elude the charge.

By endlessly claiming that the word is overused as an attack, the overuse, through rhetorical sleight of hand, is amplified in the dismissal. The word is snatched from its serious scientific and sociological context and redefined simply as a weapon of argumentation, the hand grenade you toss under the table to blow things up and halt the conversation when things get too “honest” or “uncomfortable.”

But people will not fall for that chicanery. The language will survive. The concept will not be corrupted. Racism is a real thing, not because the “racial grievance industry” refuses to release it, but because society has failed to eradicate it.

Racism is interpersonal and structural; it is current and historical; it is explicit and implicit; it is articulated and silent.


The issue of racism in law enforcement made it into Twitter in a powerful way, with thousands of posts illustrative of the double standards in how laws are enforced.

From Mic.com:

Following a grand jury’s decision to let a white police officer walk free for the death of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old black man and father of six in New York City, the hashtag #CrimingWhileWhite began trending on Twitter. While real-life protests were occurring simultaneously across New York City, the hashtag became a powerful indictment of white privilege and the law. The hashtag was started by Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon writer Jason Ross, who shared his story of a childhood run-in with the law.

#CrimingWhileWhite illustrates how differently the system treats white Americans and black Americans like Eric Garner, who was choked to death for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes, and Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old Cleveland boy shot and killed for wielding a toy gun.

Here are a few examples of that meme:

I can't breathe

The above is an excerpt from Doug Porter’s column at San Diego Free Press, our online media partner.


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