Thursday, the NYPD’s attempted arrest of Eric Garner, for selling untaxed cigarettes, tragically ended in Garner’s death.
A video released of the incident shows an agitated and indignant 43-year-old Garner surrounded by police officers, placed in a chokehold by Officer Daniel Pantaleo, an illegal tactic in the NYPD, and thrown on the ground. He alerts the officers several times he can’t breathe, yet they continue shoving his head into the pavement until he loses consciousness. The EMS arrive and do little more than check his pulse and look at him for several minutes before deciding to place him on the stretcher. Garner went into cardiac arrest while finally being transported to Richmond University Medical Center, where he died.
Four of the EMS responders and two of the cops involved have been placed on desk duty. Officer Pantaleo’s badge and gun were taken.
Garner, husband and father of six, was thrown to the ground by five police officers and choked because he was suspected of selling loose cigarettes.
An investigation will follow which will likely implicate Garner responsible for his own death. Officers will claim the force was justified due to his extensive, though non-violent, criminal history, and his large stature. But truly it was both parties’ deep-rooted mistrust and prejudices that caused the situation to escalate far too quickly.
This is an agonizingly familiar story. The details vary, sometimes a keychain flashlight is mistaken for a gun or an injured man seeking help from the police is confused with an assailant rushing them. The common factor is the perception of the dangerous black man. This perceived danger, fueled by media and politics, is lethal to men of color.
Nonetheless, this is not a “minority problem”, even though it does disproportionately affect minorities, it is an American problem. Across the US police forces are using increasingly excessive force. A change needs to happen, simply better training and rebuilding trust between the police and community could make a drastic difference.
A change is occurring, though not in the right direction. The police force is “transforming from public servants to a brutish, quasi-military force”, which will continue the cycle of brutality, mourning, protests and then apathy.
Chariese is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.