Police Abuse

Of Course Racism Was a Factor in Eric Garner's Death; Identifying It Isn't a Solution


Eric Garner

Some on the left are aghast that libertarians, but especially that conservatives are disturbed by the grand jury decision not to indict Danny Pantaleo, the New York City cop who placed Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold. And they're upset that those libertarians and conservative are pointing to New York City's laws against selling loose, untaxed cigarettes as a contributing factor. In their narrative, Eric Garner's death is attributable exclusively to a racist cop who used excessive force. And in fact, Pantaleo has multiple complaints of racial bias against him. And he certainly used excessive force. But if Pantaleo is a racist, more training won't make him not a racist. Despite the best efforts of professional diversity and sensitivity trainers, racism and hatred are not something a five-, 10-, or even 40-hour course will rid a heart of. The idea that the right training can change a racist cop s delirious.

Is there a way to get rid of racist cops? They can be fired, but not always. Many police departments, including New York's, have generous job protections for police officers. These privileges, masquerading as "due process," protect bad cops. Defenders of public unions say it isn't fair to fire a public employee merely for the appearance of impropriety, bias, or even corruption and criminality. But is it fair to expose an untold number of people to a potential violent offender because he managed to get on the public payroll and access the privileges that come with it? Take the example of alleged sexual predator Thomas Tolstoy, returned to the Philadelphia Police Department even though the police chief doesn't want him because prosecutors couldn't make the charges stick. Union protections keep these kind of risky people on the street in uniform.

What about a more diverse police force? Even Slate has debunked this as any kind of solution to police brutality. "Just because an officer is black," wrote Jamelle Bouie, "doesn't mean he's less likely to use violence against black citizens." Some numbers from ProPublica to enforce that:

Black officers account for a little more than 10 percent of all [reported] fatal police shootings. Of those they kill, though, 78 percent were black.

White officers, given their great numbers in so many of the country's police departments, are well represented in all categories of police killings. White officers killed 91 percent of the whites who died at the hands of police. And they were responsible for 68 percent of the people of color killed. Those people of color represented 46 percent of all those killed by white officers.

Garner's death, and others like his, aren't counted even in the inadequate counts of police shootings, because it wasn't a shooting.

Another solution to racist policing is to ratchet up police targeting of white people. From an interview last year with Councilman Andy King, a Bronx Democrat who represents the district where Ramarley Graham was shot in his grandmother's house after being pursed by cops over a small amount of weed and who participated in rallies in support of Graham, an excerpt:

Reason: If the NYPD were to counteract accusations of racial profiling by targeting more young white males suspected of making illegal drug purchases, would that lend their activities in the community more credence?

King: If the scale is equal, of course. Because they're doing something wrong… for us to act like there's no drug use in the white community, we're fooling ourselves. There's coke heads on Wall Street. In communities of color we're constantly hearing about the mistakes, but you never hear about crime in the white communities, with police saying oops. So why do we have it now and always in communities of color? It's unfair to target just young men of color.

None of what King said would have prevented the death of Ramarley Graham. So would it be unfair to say that for King it's appearances that matter more than lives?

Focusing on the issue of overcriminalization as a route to alleviating police brutality is not a race-blind tactic. The laws that spark interactions like the one between police and Eric Garner disproportionately affect the poor and minorities, both in their substance (rich white people can afford a hefty cigarette tax, say, and have front yards for their grills) and in their enforcement (a white person dressed the "right" way is more likely to get away with selling loose cigarettes because they don't conform to cops' biases of what a loose cigarette dealer looks like). Nanny state laws—laws with no victims that are instead about correcting behavior—are especially burdensome on poor and marginalized communities, and come from a long history of white supremacy and the idea that poor people, especially poor black people, are too stupid to be the masters of their own lives.

At the end of the day, it's impossible to say for certain if Danny Pantaleo is a racist. Only he knows that. But it's possible to say for certain that if his supervisors hadn't ordered him and other plainclothes officers to patrol Staten Island for loose cigarette dealers then Eric Garner, a man known to the police as a loose cigarette dealer, wouldn't have been approached by cops and eventually placed in a fatal chokehold.

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  1. To paraphrase a comment from yesterday, I'm not looking for more racial parity in the choking-people-to-death category from police; I want it to stop.

    1. ^^THIS^^

      Would it make the Progressives feel better if the NYPD would choke a white guy to death this week?

      1. If the NYPD choked a white guy to death for selling untaxed cigarettes, the left's response would be to ban cigarettes.

        1. Point being, they'd blame the cigarettes, not the tax incentive, in case that wasn't clear.

        2. Of course. The Left doesn't care about police brutality. In fact, they think it is great if it is done to the right people enforcing the right laws.

          The left considered Janet Reno a hero for burning the Branch Dividians to death. There you had people the Left hates, religious nuts, being killed by police enforcing a law the Left loves, gun laws. If Garner had been white, the left would think his dying was just fine.

          They only pretend to care about police brutality in the Garner case because Garner is black and blacks are an indispensable part of their power base. That is it.

      2. I actually think it would. For instance, The comments in the jezebel apology are all basically really sad that the rape didn't occur, and that it doesn't change the real issue of campus rape epidemic and victim doubting.
        Anything that could excuse them from confronting their own preconceptions and logical fallacies would be welcome.

    2. Couldn't agree more.

      I don't consider justice equality of oppression. I consider it the absence of oppression.

    3. Exactly.

    4. I love this "choked to death" stuff.
      Watch the video - the "choke hold" is applied for less than 18 seconds (it's hard to tell when it is released because Pantaleo is obscured by a uniform cop.
      NB: Pantaleo is the one wearing the shirt with 99 on the back.
      So, for the rest of the time it takes for Garner to be handcuffed, to have EMS called and the seven minute video of the aftermath, with the EMT/paramedic arriving and checking on Garner, until Garner is loaded onto the gurney, where you can clearly hear a bystander ask why CPR hasn't been administered and the cop answers that "he is breathing", your contention is that he is dead?
      Not to mention that Garner, apparently suffered a heart attack in the ambulance and wasn't pronounced dead for another hour.
      The entire encounter, involving many individuals was, undoubtedly, a contributing factor in his death, but the statement that Officer Pantaleo choked him to death is simply not true.

      1. Thank you for being a voice of reason, on which this site is named.

  2. Until last night I never saw the end of the video - where the cops just stood around shrugging while he died. No CPR at all - they just rolled him on his side and tried to watch his soul leave his body.

    Remind me to never have a heart attack in the presence of the NYPD.

    1. None of us have the evidence or the facts that the GJ did -- including videos. Curious where you saw the end of the on the street video. Everything I have seen and read says that he died en route in the ambulance.

      1. Video was full from before the encounter to his death. To say we didn't have the video is being disingenuous and willfully blind to the facts. I do agree we do not have the facts the GJ did but do know that the grand jury wasn't even given the chance to consider the least of charges, criminal negligence in the performance of duty. I don't see where justice was served or even an appearance of justice. What was seen was the reinforcement that the police are invincible due to the system and unions. That gives more than the appearance but substance to the charge the system does not work for the citizens but against the citizens.

        "When the government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny." - Jefferson. We are heading fast in the direction of tyranny and they are being armed as the military and acting as such.

    2. Guess you had the sound turned off or didn't watch the end, where they were wheeling Garner away and a bystander asked a cop why they weren't giving him CPR and the cop answers "he is breathing". This is after an EMT/paramedic gives a quick evaluation including checking his carotid pulse.
      You don't perform CPR on someone with a pulse, who is breathing.

      1. You also don't perform CPR on a person who is dead. And if you believe everything cops testify to when they could be held responsible in contributing to a situation that resulted in the death of a man who wasn't fighting them. Then, you are being disingenuous and blind to the motives of the cops answer.

  3. I'm not saying it's impossible that racism was involved. But, that leaves open some loose ends. The Officer in Charge of the arrest was a black woman. Are we to assume that she would have been okay with Pantaleo acting out his racism on Garner? Or should we assume that she shared his racism against black people?

    Again, the nature of the law is that its footprint is going to come down most heavily on those on the margins of society. And again, racial minorities are significantly overrepresented in that population. That is a genuine shame. And what should be done about that is certainly a legitimate topic for debate, discussion, and possibly action. But, given that that is the way things stand, it's not exactly surprising that you'll see black people overrepresented among those facing problems with the police, regardless of whether cops are racist or not.

    1. But those rules and taxes are for programs that will give poor people money, thereby making them not poor anymore! If right wingers didn't insist on paying meager, non-living wages, there wouldn't be poor people for racist right wing cops to oppress.

    2. Without commenting on whether or not racism was involved in this specific incident, the stop and frisk stats in NYC prove that they were using racial profiling while conducting it. The fact that some NYPD officers are black (or Hispanic, etc.) does not somehow negate that.

      1. Sure they were. It is an established fact that black people not only represent a disproportionately high percentage of people in prison but also that as a group they are no more or less prone to criminality than any other group. They only go to prison more often because they are targeted and thus caught more often by the cops.

        So, think about that fact for a moment. That means if we want to solve the problem of disproportionate black incarceration, we either need to enforce the laws even harder and so that whites and other groups end up in jail at just as high of a rate as blacks or we need to view these laws as having a disproportionate impact on black people and thus are racist and think about repealing some of them.

        1. John, I'm not trying to argue that we need to enforce laws more harshly against white people or that it wouldn't be as bad if Garner was white. I'm in complete agreement with you on repealing laws. All I'm saying is that the fact that not all cops are white doesn't mean that there isn't racism in law enforcement practices. That is all.

          1. I agree with you. And even where there isn't racism, cops tend to pick on poor people more than black people and that because blacks are poorer disproportionately affects blacks.

            Here is what I think both sides don't get. Middle and upper class white people live in denial of how lousy it is for black people dealing with police in this country. Blacks live in denial of how lousy it is for poor whites to deal with the police in this country.

            The only difference between blacks and whites is that if you are white, you don't have to worry too much about the cops fucking with you as long as you are middle class or higher. If you are black, the cops will fuck with you no matter how much money or status you have.

        2. I'm not sure if you are being facetious, but blacks are statistically much more likely than whites to commit many crimes. Homicide, for instance. I'm guessing whites are more likely to commit white collar crimes. Of course, those aren't the kind of laws we are talking about here.

          1. Yes, homicide is the big exception to my contention. If you look at other crimes, like drug use, theft, assault, and such, there is virtually no difference.

        3. What you state:"that as a group they are no more or less prone to criminality than any other group" is not a fact, at all.
          Go find yourself a police scanner and listen to the descriptions crime victims report to the police. What you hear isn't filtered to ensure that police look only for suspects of a certain race, they are raw reports in the immediate aftermath of the crime.
          Too often it is assumed that police only look for individuals, as they are going through their day and not that their major focus is on looking for suspects as described by their victims.

      2. Probably true.

        Now, you have to ask a second question, and probably a more pernicious one - Did the cops target blacks out of racial animus, or because they saw them as easier targets (more likely on the margins of society and, therefore, more to score a conviction)?

        That latter isn't racism, per se. Doesn't make it any less evil.

        1. Poor people live in higher crime areas where there are more cops. Poor people tend to violate nuisance laws and nanny state laws like noise regulations and car registration and such and therefore are more likely to interact with the cops. Poor people have less ability to fight a charge and are therefore easier marks for cops.

          It is a lot of things Bill.

          1. All true. But, I'm addressing Caldissident's point regarding profiling and stop-and-frisk.

            And in that case, I don't know if statistics were collected, but I would give very high odds that if you examined the socio-economic status of those stopped, the disparities would make the racial ones look like background noise.

            1. Maybe, I don't think there are statistics on that.

              But even if we assume that SES is what they care about most, it's pretty evident that if you are poor and white, you're much more likely to have a cop guess that you're middle-class or above than if you are poor and black, and conversely if you're middle-class or upper-class and black, cops are much more likely to guess you're poor than if you are white and have the same SES. I've never lived in NY or visited, but I can speak for LA. I go to school at a prestigious college in South LA, and a majority of my black guy friends have at some point been stopped or otherwise bothered (I have a friend who had a cop pull up and stare at him for a good ten seconds before driving off as he was walking with his white girlfriend) by LAPD despite being students (and at least half are of middle or upper class background) at a very prestigious university. I could count on one hand the number of white guys I know who have had similar encounters with LAPD around here.

          2. Cops don't base an encounter with anyone because they are an "easier mark".
            It doesn't do Officer Jones any good to have a bunch of arrests, of people who don't have the ability to hire a high priced lawyer, if the arrest is thrown out for lack of evidence, by the DA.
            Cops look for those they believe have committed a crime and, when a certain identifiable group commit a disproportionate number of crimes, they will be looked at more closely.
            If you call that racism, then you are entitled to your opinion, but the idea that the underlying crime statistics doesn't play a role is delusional.

            1. You have obviously not been to city court to make the statement that they don't base an encounter with anyone because they are an "easier mark". How much trouble does a cop go through with a wealthier person who has an attorney verses a poor person who has a public defender? If both an attorney and a public defender put up the same "fight" in court vs. a plea deal, then your statement would be true. But it is not.

        2. I don't know, but I would assume a combination of outright animus, stereotyping and bias, and seeing them as easier targets.

          The latter might not racism by a strict definition of racial hatred or belief in superiority or inferiority of a particular race, but it's effect is still racist, so I don't think it makes much practical difference.

          And again, I want to reiterate that I agree that the root causes here are bad laws and lack of accountability, and that cops being just as harsh (not that they never are currently) to white people isn't a solution.

          1. I think it makes a bit of a difference in that it calls into question to what extent any of this can be fixed by personnel or enlightenment. If the police are just looking to throw black people in jail, well, that's something that can be fixed by getting better police who don't share that attitude. And scaling back the law won't do much to fix the problem. The racist cops will just find something else to arrest them for. On the other hand, if the cops are trying to score points by nabbing people for bullshit laws, then the answer is to remove the incentive by eliminating the laws. Personnel or enlightenment won't make any difference. Even the most non-racist cop in the world will still look to target those they're convinced they can score on.

            1. I think it's a combination. And I think holding cops accountable for misconduct can help mitigate the actions of the cops who are truly racist, or the ones that are just looking to fuck with people, regardless of race, for that matter.

  4. It's not like the cops aren't brutal to white people. Ever known any weedy-looking white trash teenagers? The cops brutalize them plenty. I always find it interesting that the left confuses "white" with middle-class, organic-milk-buying, yoga-class-going white. I guess they have no idea that there's a white underclass too.

    1. Part of it is that poor white people tend to disproportionately live in rural areas, where it's easier to avoid cops than in the inner cities.

      1. Sure, but there's plenty of pockets in Rust Belt cities of people whose parents and grandparents were too poor or stupid to join in white flight.

        1. Ahem - raises hand.

          BTW there are other reasons some of us white folk stayed in the city besides being poor (which we were to a certain extent) or stupid (maybe). In my case, it was schools. The city had much better schools than the suburbs which my mom was able to get me into.

      2. Okay. Then maybe we should stop passing laws that are inevitably going to be enforced disproportionately against black people?

        1. I don't disagree at all

        2. Maybe so but re other reasons. If you see the comment thread in the NY Daily News piece linked to above, they bring out how all the witnesses at the scene, except the police, say Garner was not selling cigarets. How does not having laws which weren't being violated anyway change a situation like this?

          Not only that, but even the excuse that local store owners had, to complain (or did complain) about Garner, that he was untaxed competition for them, won't wash. He was almost certainly selling cigs that were already taxed. There's a good chance he even bought them from a local store.

          Somebody wanted to get rid of this guy for good. Look how the chief executioner instantly moved in for the kill from behind, with no antecedent struggle. I don't know if it had anything to do with the parties to the fight he'd just broken up, but who knows, maybe one of the cops was a friend of one of them and didn't appreciate the interference. Whatever, there's a story here that's never going to be told.

      3. Half the episodes of "Cops" seemed to involve a trailer park.

        1. How often do they follow urban police?

      4. Oh, I don't think it's all that hard to find suburban white trash.

        1. I'm speaking generally. And it's statistical fact that poor whites live in rural areas more often than poor black people do (especially outside of the South).

      5. It is easier to avoid cops, and people are more likely to have a personal connection to the cops. Which makes harassment over petty bullshit less likely(though it certainly doesn't eliminate harassment).

    2. Those are rednecks, and the left has no use for god-lovin' gun-totin' pickup-drivin' jerks like that.

    3. If Progressives are so concerned about police brutality, I guess that is why they were so outraged over Randy Weaver's wife being murdered by the FBI at Ruby Ridge or 70 people, including over 20 children, being burned to death at the hands of Janet Reno's FBI.

      Oh yeah, that is right, they thought those things were fucking great and the people who died got what they deserved.

    4. I have a friend who used to live in a kind of hipster area of Atlanta. But to get to work he had to drive through a predominately black neighborhood. He got pulled over all the time on his way home because the cops assumed he was buying drugs.

      1. There are a lot of neighborhoods like that. If you are white and drive through them, the cops assume you are either lost and need help getting out or are there to buy drugs, which in many cases either possibility is a good guess. Your friend was a rare white person in that neighborhood.

    5. Yeah, but at the same time, poor whites don't kill each other nearly as much as poor blacks do.

      Drugs, sure. But murder (or rape, even)? Not even close.

  5. Another solution to racist policing is to ratchet up police targeting of white people.

    As John pointed out earlier, if you actually care about the incarceration/killing of black people, this won't do anything. It will just incarcerate/kill more people overall. Only someone who cares more about hurting white people than helping black people would support such a thing.

    1. I don't think that was intended to be a serious suggestion.

      1. If you don't want to do that and I don't think anyone does, then how do you solve the problem of black incarceration? Do you just stop enforcing some laws against black people? That would be wildly unfair and unconstitutional even by the Narzgul's fuckup standards.

        So what is left? The only solution I see is to figure out which laws, which are not essential to the criminal justice system like rape and murder, most disproportionately effect black people and repeal them.

        Perhaps that 800 pound gorilla wearing the "Just Say No" T-shirt and his little brother with the "Nanny for All" shirt sitting in the corner might have some ideas about which ones to repeal.

        1. Repeal laws? That will never happen. There seems to be some unspoken rule that laws are to be amended, but never repealed. I don't know if it's a professional courtesy thing or what. Like legislators will not repeal any legislation because they don't want to set precedent that could result in something they wrote to being repealed. Kinda how new presidents never prosecute criminals in the previous administration because they don't want set precedent that would result in their criminal activities being prosecuted.

          1. Of course not. But Libertarians need to start using the language and weapons of the Progs against them. Tell Prog to real their racist laws!!

        2. I think that and making cops accountable for misconduct and brutality (regardless of race) would be the most impactful solutions.

          1. Not really. It would be a great thing and I am all for it. But the bigger and deeper problem in this country is that we have a huge number of people in prison. Making cops criminally responsible for their misconduct won't solve that. And indeed, the need to meet arrest quotas and enforce all of our laws is one of the main drivers of police brutality anyway. Fewer laws goes at the root of the problem.

            1. If you missed it, I said that AND accountability were the best solutions. And by that I didn't mean making them meet arrest quotas. But I do agree that the laws are at the heart of the issue.

              1. My mistake. Sorry to have misunderstood.

        3. "figure out which laws ... most disproportionately effect black people and repeal them."

          That's rather racist, isn't it? Race should never be a factor in the laws we pass. If one race is disproportionately affected, that's life. We should repeal trivial laws and those that are not essential to governance with no regard for race.

    2. Only someone who cares more about hurting white people than helping black people would support such a thing.

      So in other words, the entire Progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

  6. Equality is what is important, not preservation of human dignity.

  7. Government was the biggest factor. Voluntary economic transactions shouldn't be taxed.

  8. I've read that there was actually a black female officer (not seen in the tape) supervising the arrest. She testified that "The perpetrator's condition did not seem serious and he did not appear to get worse.""

  9. God you people are such cowards whenever somebody mentions racism.

    Please, show me one ounce of evidence that there was ANY racial motive in this case at all?

    Oh, you can't.

  10. Has even Reason now joined the ranks of the mainstream media in mindlessly parroting statistics without engaging in any critical thinking?

    According to your numbers, 78% of those killed by black police are black, but only 68% of those killed by white police of "of color.' Even when you lump all people 'of color' together, white cops are engaging in fewer 'racist' killings than blacks. It seems black cops are even more racist (against fellow blacks) than are white cops. Or, if you are willing to entertain even a mote of critical thinking, perhaps the reason that 78% of the 'victims' of black cops are also black, is because blacks are more likely to engage in activities that provoke police to use lethal force.

  11. I love it when REASON jumps to assumptions. Nice work.

  12. One side of the argument is fixated on the number of suspects killed by police yet ignores the other side of the coin. In 2013, police killed 461 suspects. 27 police officers were killed by felons. the other 49 were killed in accidents and other not violent duty related activities. However, 49,851 officers were injured by felons in 2013. So suddenly the number of shooting pales in comparison. The rate of felons shot by police vs the number of officers injured or killed by felons is .009%. I am not saying there are not bad cops and that the garner case was not impacted by other issues like race, but only pointing out we cannot paint all police with a broad brush without taking into account the realities of the job we ask them to do everyday.

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