That was just one question posed by the Reverend Al Sharpton shortly before he presided over the funeral of one Eric Garner last week; Garner’s name making shocking headlines as both news and internal police investigations try to determine if he was the victim of police brutality, an illegal choke hold or if it was a horrible case of resisting arrest gone wrong. Already his death has sparked protests across his Staten Island community, who characterized him as a gentle giant, igniting age old tensions on race, fairness and justice since the arresting officers appear to be white, possibly Latino and the deceased man black, a disturbing trend rearing its ugly head with a vengeance in the shadow of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, the black mother originally sentenced to 20 years for firing a warning shot at her ex, when he tried to force his way into a home occupied by her and her children, whom she had a restraining order against but he ignored. Worse here was a father of 6, grandfather of 2 recently beaming with pride his son was about to be the first in the family to attend college, on a basketball scholarship. Moreover there is what the police were attempting to arrest him for, confronting him about, his alleged sale of illegal cigarettes known as loosies, many incredulous a man could potentially lose his life not for suspicion of rape, murder, child molestation, dealing drugs to children, not for assaulting police officers, being violent during the course of an arrest while high on drugs, attempting to flee arrest, but contraband cigarettes. And yes he did have a lengthy arrest record, several charges for the same offense, yet all were misdemeanor, non- violent run-ins with police. Further this isn’t the neighborhood Bernie Madoff similar to a drug ring, a massive operation amassing large amounts of money “peddling” individual smokes sold on average for 50 cents to one dollar; legitimizing the reverend’s question about what a man, a person’s life, particularly a black or minority person’s life, is ultimately worth. Where is the humanity in the world, in our society today when it was deemed worth risking this man’s life, this responsible father of 6’s life over illegal cigarettes?
Looking at the video only appears to substantiate family and protesters claims not just that there was indeed a chokehold used but that there is a definite indication of needless brutality; yes you see him, baritone voice, accusing police of harassment, asking what they were bothering him for, arresting him for, assertions he was minding his own business including emphatic hand gestures often seen in excited, strong, forceful communication. You also hear him say to officers please don’t touch me right before police try to pull his hands behind his back, presumably to handcuff him, to which he responded by attempting to pull his hands and arms away. Next the cop behind him puts his arm around Mr. Garner’s neck, 4-5 other cops follow bringing him to the ground, still with the original officers arm around his neck several additional officers crowding around possibly sitting on him, one of the double digit number flocking to the arrest clearly seen in footage pressing down on the man’s head while he repeatedly states throughout the ordeal he cannot breath. Likewise telling is what you don’t hear in the video, unmistakably heard is Garner’s voice asking questions, claiming harassment, asking not to be touched; nothing is heard from cops, despite what we, the viewers, are lead to believe is a lengthy and sometimes tense confrontation with police supposed to end in arrest, you don’t hear any officer finally state ok sir we have to put you under arrest, we’re going to have to sort this out down ate the station, a warring, statement of intention, a beginning to read him his Miranda rights before the officer behind Garner, where he cannot see, pulls at his arms. There is no attempt to compromise with Garner on how he was handcuffed before being taken into custody by police, offering him the chance to be handcuffed hands out in front for example; where was the implementation of crisis management techniques, negotiation tactics and other training methods given to police to peacefully handle encounters like this one? And for all their “need” to use force to apprehend Garner, though he is gesturing, using his hands, obviously upset about his impending arrest on what he imagines is a trumped up, bogus charge, not once to you see him strike officers, make a move that would in the slightest suggest he meant to get violent with them, pull any sort of weapon on them, he was in fact completely unarmed, he never demonstrated a concerted effort to flee, even taking into account girth, weight and physical stature, at one point yes trying to simply walk away. When thwarted he again tries to ascertain why cops have detained him on the sidewalk, reiterates he hasn’t done anything; noted, he’s still saying please leave me alone, please don’t touch me. What violent person do police usually come in contact with earnestly saying please? For all there “need” to apply force to resolve the situation, also not heard from the arresting officers, indications his gestures were perceived as a threat by them, warnings that should he continue to fail his hands and move that way he would have resisting arrest added to his potential charges, he could be charged with threatening or assaulting a police officer. Because the video, now gone viral, was shot by a bystander and not a patrol car dash cam, yes we only see what was recorded in the timeframe said video runs, we have no idea what transpired before; still it comes down to what is missing from footage, video evidence, references he has already struck or tried to strike officers, has already made a serious effort to flee, is facing a laundry list of charges based on those actions, so don’t make it any worse. Honestly avid viewers of the TV show COPS witness more violence than this man’s supposed resist of arrest; contrast the second video above of persons truly presenting a danger to law enforcement, people high on drugs, extremely intoxicated or severely mentally ill, people taking things like “molly,” bath salts, literally the 21st century version of PCP, who possess super human strength under the influence, who require several officers to subdue them sans injury to police personnel or suspect to the laughable purported resisting by Eric Garner. Which one had the greater liability to end in death; which one shouldn’t have at all?
Compounding national outcry and outrage is mere minutes after they handcuff him he is suddenly motionless on the ground, has stopped speaking, producing sound of any kind; instead of listening when 11 times the suspected illegal cigarette seller said he couldn’t breathe, quickly executing the handcuff procedure, sitting him upright to assess his condition, see if he needed medical attention or just a little space to catch his breath, being handcuffed and no longer struggling, unable to go anywhere, they left him on the ground until he was utterly unresponsive. Then when paramedics, EMTs are finally called officers who are known for having helped deliver babies, administer CPR, other first aid to distressed people because they were first or only help on scene, spent the intervening time rifling through his pockets rather than making sure he’s breathing, checking his airway, feeling for a pulse. Once on scene EMTs are no better; another 7 minute video shot by citizen bystanders shows them trying to goad Mr. Garner into talking, saying they were there to help him, time drags on as they eventually check his pulse, load him onto a gurney, at no time checking his airway, respiration, breathing, standard procedure in such a scenario where a person appears to be unconscious. Assuming for a moment no one volunteered information on what transpired minutes prior, you ask questions, you rule out or rule in things based on those answers; at no point while he lay on the sidewalk did paramedics seem hurried, concerned, recognize the dire straits their patient was in. At no time did they perform CPR, try to resuscitate him; they stood around as if flummoxed about how to assess the goings on before their eyes, unsure actions to take to get the burly man off the concrete. He died of an apparent heart attack en route to the hospital. Major players in the incident find themselves suspended or on restricted, desk duty pending the ongoing investigation as well they should be; multitudes think they should more than be fired, be criminally charged with murder or similar charges relating to their inactions as much as their actions. Equally not sitting well with the public the weak, astoundingly flimsy definition given by police representatives between a chokehold, saying its purpose, goal is the suffocate the air from a person’s body, and the so called restraining hold their top brass claimed officers used to subdue the unarmed father. Point being both are dangerous; the first illegal for police to use, the second a move that should only be used when absolutely necessary, if ever. Beyond the sneaky suspicion many are getting cops arrested Garner the way they did because they just grew bored trying to resolve things peacefully, wanted to cuff him, book him, file the paperwork, next going off shift or moving on to better things they had to do that day, adding to the sickening feel surrounding the events of, the eventual and needless death of Eric Garner is, in the second citizen shot video released to media, you see the cop responsible for the hold waving to their camera. 7 minutes into the 7:42 video below you see him smugly waving, treating this like it is a press junket not a possible crime scene; unconcerned, disconnecting his actions to the unconscious, unresponsive man just wheeled away on a stretcher. Corrupt, rouge cops is a sad and unfortunate part of our social landscape but there is something completely wrong and unnerving about the concept it has gravitated to emergency workers, the first line of defense in saving a person’s life after an accident, being caught in a natural disaster, victim of violent crime, passing out on the street or when the stress of arrest puts your health, life in jeopardy, as it clearly did regarding Mr. Garner. Either these EMT, paramedic workers are woefully incompetent, one having no equipment with her, or they desperately need an attitude adjustment to care about human life, to care about the people their job demands they come in contact with vs. the illogically persistent attitude oh we’re getting called to the scene of an arrest, probably someone faking it to avoid going to jail, someone who thinks they can avoid jail by a trip to the hospital, another drunk idiot, another high addict, all irrelevant here.
Dovetailing right into an earlier case on the opposite coast in California, July 1 where a person driving on the freeway caught another disturbing cellphone video depicting a highway patrol cop savagely punching a woman lying in the dirt on the side of the busy road, videographer and other car occupants unable to understand the reason for what they are witnessing. Her offense, of the grandmother Marlene Pinnock walking too close to the freeway, so according to his official report, after repeated warnings to stop walking too close to aforementioned freeway, for her own safety he tries to place her under arrest. Next stating she became combative leading to the images filmed by a passing motorist who stopped to see what the heck was going on; video showing a woman on the ground obviously fending off punches to her face and head, trying to push the officers hands away as he continues to hit her while straddling her immobile lower body. Towards the end turning to the side and putting her hands and arms over her face like children are taught in earthquake drills. Further the videoing witness told news outlets he heard the officer yell freeze but did not see her exhibit combative behavior of any kind, thinking perhaps she was intoxicated or mentally unstable; in fact the initial start to the video shows the officer just suddenly throwing a woman to the ground. Paralleling the Garner incident in New York no, we cannot visually see what happened before the allotted filming but we possess something better an eyewitness willing to speak at length with news media; reasonably asking if your goal was her safety, if you were taking her into custody for her own protection, why beat her, punch her in the head? No, we can’t be 100% sure what was said or done before Ms. Pinnock came to be on the ground; however, regardless of her actions, at the time the video is running the officer clearly is in control of her, if not himself, he has ample opportunity to front hand cuff her, lift her to her feet and guide her to his police vehicle. He, on the other hand, chose to at least cause it to look like he was using her for a punching bag; she fortunately lived, if you can call such an ordeal fortune. Pinnock was taken to the hospital, evaluated and released, no evidence of instability or drunkenness. Is this how we want law enforcement to treat our drunk, high, in need of help citizens, our suicidal, mentally ill; her age is 51 not so far from Alzheimer’s especially early onset varieties, other dementia illnesses. Is this how we want public servants, patrol cops, beat cops on the front lines dealing with people day in day out treating our loved ones, our family members at a time of crisis, the possible lowest point in their life? Prompting heightened citizen uneasiness, unrest and absolute demands for justice is the once more documented pattern of white officer black suspect, “citizen endangering self” on top of California highway patrol’s announced response two days after they say they were made aware of footage and the officer’s conduct; standing in front of a press conference they declared they would not need an independent investigation that they could handle it themselves. Lawyers for the Pinnock family justifiably skeptical and disbelieving of those pending results when usually in high profile, highly scrutinized cases, cases showing possible egregious actions on the part of police both an internal and an independent investigation are performed, appropriate steps, potential criminal charges filed based on those results. Too, compare videos of Garner, videos of Pinnock to the carjacking seen in the latter of proceeding clips depicting a man clearly armed with a gun, not afraid to use it, reportedly shooting at people, terrorizing motorists on a Denver highway, having already crashed 2 cars, entered a home, stolen another, gotten out of it and reasonably headed for his next target when tackled, restrained and held down by a motorcycle cop helped by good Samaritans; he also lived through the force used to apprehend him to face justice under the law, force directly necessitated from his actions, his noticeable carrying and use of a weapon, none of which factored into the other situations.
And this mentality is bleeding out to citizens, apart from laws going back decades allowing ordinary people to use deadly force to defend themselves, their home and family without the ridiculous fear of going to jail for harming the crazed burglar high on drugs like the woman who had a six shot pistol-type weapon, called 911, hid herself and her family, fired at least 4 of 6 shots into the person on her property, in her home, who still kept coming at his victims, protecting her children from someone who really shouldn’t have been loose on the streets in the first place, is the thinking, or lack thereof, behind the tragedies we read about. The thought process that says I have the legal right to shoot so I’m going to sans thinking it through, sans common sense self-protection, sans doing anything else first. A key point at issue in the Renisha McBride shooting trial called the next George Zimmerman case, where 55 year old Theodore Wafer says he shot McBride post being woken up from a dead sleep at 4:30 am to someone banging on his door, his windows; thinking someone was breaking into his home, he grabbed for his shogun purportedly unable to find his cellphone, went to the front door, opened it to determine what was happening, saw a figure shooting through the screen door in fear for his life. Problem, despite Michigan’s statutes regarding the castle doctrine leaning in his favor, despite the no duty to flee his own home argument there are serious doubts as to whether he was indeed terrified or just trigger happy; doubts coming from his initial statement to police saying the gun accidentally discharged, he didn’t know there was a round in the chamber. So, were you in fear for your life or, in the heat of the moment, not paying attention to if the gun was loaded or not? Then there is whom he shot, not only is this a 19 year old kid, a petite to average size female, she minutes to hours prior to landing on Mr. Wafer’s front porch, was in a car accident hitting a parked vehicle, emerging with a bleeding forehead appearing dazed and disoriented; her family believing she wandered there seeking help. Rebuffing partial public sentiment consisting of 19 year olds are responsible for their actions, her blood alcohol was 3 times the legal limit coupled with pot in her system, I would have shot her too if she was banging hard enough on my screen to damage it, commentary asserting that should be the focus along with the friends who allowed her to drive so drunk, is the question of, no matter where the law stands on the subject, was his only, his most logical, even most instinctual action to grab his gun and shoot someone looking for help? Never mind she could have easily been just as impaired, confused from the accident itself, no substances in her system, a person taking Ambien or other sleep aids causing the same effect, a mother, father working 2-3 jobs who fell asleep behind the wheel, hitting the same parked car, sustaining the same mental status altering injuries. Multiplying the holes, inconstancies and just doesn’t make sense factors in his story, first he’s 55 years old and has no landline phone, odd; secondly, at 4:30 in the morning, suddenly awoken you can’t find your cellphone but you can find your gun?? You say you live in a high crime area, assumedly part of the motive behind owning a shot gun to begin with, and you don’t keep track of your cellphone, knowing it is your only phone, considering the area, knowing you might have to hastily dial 911?? Thirdly once you retrieve your gun, you go to the door and open it, as opposed to hiding and listening, trying again to figure out what’s actually happening, you don’t again try to locate your phone to alert police, you next, because in your heightened state of anxiety, fear shoot something that could have been the neighbor’s cat or dog, a raccoon knocking over trashcans, actually shooting Renisha McBride, a human being in the face, killing her??
Continuing, jurors, we members of the viewing public are supposed to believe this normal sized teen girl, not a future sumo wrestler, weight lifter, body builder, gender ambiguous athlete who turns out to be female, highly intoxicated, marijuana coursing through her veins was strong enough to pound on Theodore Wafer’s screen door enough produce the boom, boom, boom sound reiterated in court opening statements, bang on it hard to damage it?? We’re supposed to believe, keeping in mind the relatively common knowledge both alcohol and pot are depressant drugs slowing down the system, usually resulting in a mellowing, calming effect, sleepy or dreamy sensation, post a significant car accident Renisha McBride had the coordination to damage that door?? All likelihood concludes, if anything, in her altered state she fell into the door generating a totally different sound; all likelihood strongly suggests he shot her, less than 2 feet from his face, trying to get up off the ground after speculated fall, stumbling shortly after standing, stumbling after her near mile wondering from the accident site. Countering possible defense strategy claiming he may have been trying to fire a warning shot, since the pellets landed square in her face, arriving at his front door, seeing what he can see he doesn’t call out hey I have a gun, it’s loaded, get off my property, get away from my house, finding another way to scare robber, burglar, prankster away, give Renisha a chance to ask for help, confused maybe thinking she’s near a friend’s house, state who she’s looking for. Subsequently you’re sleep fogged, experiencing fear due to loud banging, afraid someone is breaking into your house, not only do you go to the door in an effort to see what is going on, you don’t have a porch light, a flashlight, flip it on to get a better look in the dark of 4:30 am; you just shoot?? You felt safe enough, secure enough with the gun in your hand to go to the door, open it, your mind was un-scattered enough for you to grab for your gun before opening it but not together enough to utilize a porch light, grab a flashlight, sure. Lastly, there was no baseball bat, crowbar or other tools recovered from the scene substantiating the concept she was drunk, high and trying to rob the home, her repeated banging corroborates the family’s adamant statements she was looking for help, was trying to elicit a response, get someone’s attention. And Wafer did eventually manage to find his cellphone to call 911, because doubtful is that he went knocking on neighbors doors, recently used shot gun in hand saying he just had to shoot someone, asking to borrow their phone; it’s his voice on the 911 tape telling cops what he’d done. Following the horrifying pattern here is a white older man holding a gun, using violence against a black, unarmed young woman ending up dead because someone shot them mistaking them for a negative, inaccurate stereotype then went to court saying they were in fear for their lives expecting all to be forgiven, expecting to go on with their lives when they have heedlessly taken one.
It isn’t that we don’t understand the dangers police face daily in trying to maintain law and order, keep people safe and secure, in as much as someone not doing the job themselves can that is; it isn’t that we can’t imagine just how stressful, nerve wracking it must be to perform what should be a routine traffic stop not knowing if someone is going to shove a gun out their window, you will suddenly find yourself dragged as they try to avoid a ticket, outstanding warrants, they will attempt to run you over for the same reasons. It isn’t that we don’t, however minimally, comprehend what it’s like to answer calls for domestic disputes, drugs, prostitution even simple noise complaints never knowing who’s high on what, who has a weapon, who’s mentally unstable, who’s going to try and bite you, kick you, spit on you, who’s going to cut you, try to kill you, who has what communicable disease you now must be tested for, you now have to wait and hope you don’t have. Nor is it that we have a castle doctrine, that we have stand your ground, that we purposefully put laws on the books letting people defend themselves in an increasingly lawless society, in the face of increasingly strained, ineffective, corrupt police. It isn’t that we don’t appreciate, even sympathize, with an ordinary persons fear, caution or instincts. Our problem, as members of a supposed to be civilized society, with what we see on videos like these is poor discretion in when and how potentially lethal force is used by police, with seemingly little or no provocation we see a man put in a chokehold who later died, with no rhyme or reason a woman is being punched in the head for resisting arrest after walking too close to the freeway, adding to whatever emotional scars, personal demons she already had, not to mention the court case sure to come soon. On the civilian side pushes to revoke legalities like stand your ground stem from not just George Zimmerman’s cocky demeanor, his blatant bias, his claiming he was neighborhood watch when he wasn’t or that he was acquitted of killing a 17 year old because jurors understood his fear virtually ignoring Trayvon Martin’s, less that Michael Dunn had a litany of other options in leaving the gas station, calling to report the noise complaint, calmly ignoring the offensive noise waiting for his companion to finish shopping and more from both people who believe they are doing a public service executing a teen who doesn’t look like they belong in the area, a carload of mouthy teens and their loud music. How frequently, how commonplace it has come into use; instead of a rarity it has become a reason, an excuse to be unquestionably reckless with a gun and face no consequences. Following the equally sinister trend in public opinion, that had Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis kept their hands to themselves and respected their elders respectively they would not only still be alive that these things wouldn’t happen, that it was only Michael Dunn’s racist letters from prison convicting him and sending him to jail, hopefully for the rest of his natural life, how many people would and do still believe that the occupants of Jordan Davis’ car could have dumped the un-found gun after fleeing a hail of bullets. We’ll never know if Eric Garner was actually guilty of selling loose cigarettes because he didn’t make it through the justice system for us to find out. Here is Renisha McBride another person, living human being in a growing list of people, unarmed, dead not because of gangs, drugs, a life of crime, bad neighborhoods, drive by’s, horrible personal choices, but for at most engaging in minor legal infractions to be handled by perfunctory portions of the justice system. Because it’s now ok for police to do whatever is necessary to catch litterers, jaywalkers, enforce parking tickets deal with loose cigarettes, it’s now perfectly ok to shoot first and think later; it is now potentially lethal to knock on a door seeking help.