I've been hesitant to write about the tragic death of Eric Garner. For those who do not follow New York City news, Mr. Garner was allegedly observed to be selling loose cigarettes (aka "loosies") on a street corner in Staten Island on July 17th of this year.
Witnesses dispute that claim and assert that Garner had just broken up a fight when officers arrived at the scene. Mr. Garner had in fact been previously charged with the same crime of selling loose smokes several times to the point that he was familiar to the responding officers. Garner protested the assertion and resisted arrest. This resulted in a dog pile of officers restraining him with one officer applying a chokehold on Garner. Mr. Garner died on that very spot after stating that his breathing was compromised.
I call this a tragedy and a travesty of justice as it is implemented on the streets by overzealous police.
I submit and agree that according to the laws of New York State and New York City that he was in fact in commission of a crime if he was indeed selling cigarettes. Is that a crime that warrants physical restraint to the point of death? Mr. Garner was selling what is commonly known as a "loosie" or "Lucy", that is individual cigarettes most likely for the street accepted price of 50 cents each. This is a crime because it deprives the city and state of the tax revenue of the sale of a tobacco product. The laws in the state and city dictate that cigarettes must be sold in packs of no less than 20 and have a minimum price of $10.50 of which $5.85 is tax revenue.
Knowing all of this, it appears that if Mr. Garner had just sold a single cigarette, the tax due was 29 cents. That is the amount of money that led to the death of this man. 29 cents. That is the value of the life of a brown man in New York City if we are to believe that this violence was justified. A wife and several children are deprived of a father for an amount of money that can barely buy a piece of bubble gum.
That equation is far too simple to explain why this had to happen. The real and underlying reason was Mr. Garner's size. The 43-year-old man stood at 6'3'' and weighed 350 pounds. It didn't matter that he was asthmatic and diabetic. I submit that to the responding officers he presented a physical threat just by being brown and large. This is how an infraction that should result in an appearance citation becomes a violent confrontation. The last thing that you want to do as a non-anglo brown person in NYC is to instill fear in a cop. The results are often deadly.
I know and we all should know that being a law enforcement officer is no easy job and that every cop is not a bad cop. Just prior to writing this, an officer and I exchanged friendly greetings as he was on patrol. I wondered, if I was Eric Garner's size, would I have gotten the same treatment? The sad conclusion that I came to is no. I have seen it with my own eyes too many times to count. Being brown is enough to warrant suspicion. Being brown and large brands you a threat whether you have done wrong or not. That does not constitute policing. That is profiling and it should not have had any bearing on what boils down to tax evasion.
I have seen enough people doing the perp walk on television to know that tax evasion is a serious crime. What I have never seen nor heard of is a white perp being thrown to the ground or choked to death for failure to pay a tax. "It was a big man who had to be brought to the ground to be placed under arrest by shorter police officers," according to the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association's president Pat Lynch. I can agree that the man's size was intimidating but, isn't it the duty of the police to quell violence rather than escalate it? Is the sale of a loose cigarette enough justification to bring a man to the ground and apply an improper chokehold? Is 29 cents enough of a reason for an officer to risk injury?
The fact is that we will have no logical answers for this action. Mr. Garner will not have his day in court to plead his case. A wife and mother are left to seek justice and meaning to this act. All for the grand total of 29 cents.
Editor’s Note: Newsday newspaper on August 6, 2014 reported that the husband and wife who took video of the event have been arrested. The NY Daily News also covered the happening.