Eric Garner

Eric Garner's Arrest and Death About More Than Just a Chokehold


Begging for your life counts as "resisting"
Cellphone image via New York Daily News

The brutal takedown and arrest of Eric Garner by the New York Police Department in Staten Island, which was quickly followed by the man's death, became top national news after New York Daily News released video of the encounter (check here for more info).

There was a rally about the incident on Saturday (with Rev. Al Sharpton in attendance) and Mayor Bill DeBlasio has said he was "deeply troubled" about the incident and called for more investigation.

The focus, though, seems to be primarily on the chokehold itself used to take Garner down. Two officers involved in the incident have been assigned to desk duty during the investigation. A sample of some headlines about the circumstances of Garner's death: "Death of New York man sparks closer look at police use of chokeholds" (Los Angeles Times); "Complaints About Chokeholds Are Focus of Study" (The New York Times). Nearly every headline surrounding the incident focuses on the chokehold.

This is not to say that the actual manner by which the police took Garner down should not be thoroughly explored. NYPD guidelines apparently forbid the use of chokeholds, yet The New York Times story notes that a review board has received more than 1,000 complaints of police using chokeholds going back to 2009. The Times also notes that one of the officers who has been plunked on desk duty has been sued twice in federal court for civil rights violations, including one case where he pulled over a vehicle for a broken taillight and then strip-searched its inhabitants on the side of the road.

We should be concerned that the reason why the police swarmed Garner in the first place is getting lost. He allegedly possessed "untaxed cigarettes." That is it. There is this press focus on how the police took Garner down, and the problem with that focus is the question, "Well, what do you do when a 400-pound man refuses to cooperate when you try to arrest him?" Or to put it another way: Would there be an objection to police using a chokehold to take down and subdue man who was engaged in violent activity harming others? Because you know that's going to be part of the defense of this behavior.

There needs to be more attention on the absurd reason that a pack of police officers was on top of Garner in the first place: black market cigarettes. It's a crime that only takes place because of the city's own oppressive taxation system. It's a crime that happens when the city makes it too hard for people (especially poor people, of course) to get what they want legally.