Eric Garner

Eric Garner, Another Victim of the War on Drugs

Government policy contributes to police abuse.


When a grand jury refused last week to bring an indictment in the death of Eric Garner, the New Yorker who died from a policeman's chokehold, the outrage across the political spectrum was nearly universal. Left and right, libertarian and collectivist: Everybody was, for once, in agreement. For a moment or two.

Then fissures began appearing. One of them concerned the role New York's cigarette taxes played—or didn't—in Garner's death.

You can make a good argument, as several commentators did, that the city's outlandishly high taxes contributed to Garner's death. Those taxes have created a huge black market in cigarettes, and the cops were busting Garner for selling "loosies," or individual cigarettes, on the street. Not long ago, New York enhanced the penalty for selling loosies, and "an order to crack down on the illegal sale of 75-cent cigarettes in Staten Island came directly from police headquarters, setting off a chain of events that ended in Eric Garner's death," the Daily News reported.

The suggestion that high taxes might have helped kill Garner enraged those who like them. When Sen. Rand Paul made the point, for instance, he was swiftly and widely pilloried. The very idea was "really ludicrous," scoffed Salon's Joan Walsh. Paul will "always be an anti-tax libertarian first and foremost," she continued, "before he's a civil rights libertarian." People who order their priorities differently than she does are such jerks.

To be fair, Michael Brown was not killed for selling untaxed cigarettes in Ferguson. Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old gunned down in heinous abandon by a Cleveland police officer, was not selling untaxed cigarettes. John Crawford, shot to death by a police officer in a Beavercreek, Ohio, Walmart, was not selling loosies. Neither was Rumain Brisbon, who was killed last week by an officer in Phoenix. Amadou Diallo, perhaps the most famous victim of homicide by cop, was not selling loosies when four New York officers pumped 41 shots into him back in 1999. There's more to the issue of excessive force than taxes.

But New York's cigarette taxes are not merely a revenue source. They are also a mode of social engineering. At more than $5 a pack, they are meant to discourage smoking. It's even possible that, despite the relative inelasticity of demand for cigarettes, New York would collect more revenue if it discouraged smoking less. In this regard high cigarette taxes represent another facet of the war on drugs.

And there is no doubt that war disproportionately harms African-Americans. Blacks and whites use drugs at roughly similar rates, but blacks make up three-fifths of people serving time in prison for a drug offense. Half of all drug arrests are for marijuana, which whites and blacks also use in similar rates, yet the ACLU reports that blacks are 3.7 times more likely to be busted for marijuana than whites are. The Brookings Institution notes that while the number of black Americans arrested for property and violent crimes has fallen over the past three decades, the number arrested for drug-related crimes has skyrocketed. Therefore, a question: What is the racial breakdown of those arrested for selling loosies in New York?

And here's another question: How many people have been killed by police officers over, say, marijuana offenses?

Earlier this year, Jason Westcott was killed by a police SWAT team. The officers were executing a search warrant for marijuana; they ended up executing him. In one widely publicized case three years ago, police officers investigating possible marijuana offenses raided the home of Jose Guerena, a Marine and Iraq War veteran, and shot him at least 60 times.

In 2012, Chavis Carter was shot and killed with his hands cuffed behind his back in the rear of a police car. He had been arrested for marijuana possession. Last year, police in North Carolina shot and killed Jaquaz Walker during an undercover marijuana sting, and Los Angeles officers killed an armed 80-year-old man during a raid on a pot-growing enterprise. This year alone, roughly three dozen people, including some innocent bystanders, have died as the result of confrontations that would not have taken place if pot were legal.

Did marijuana prohibition kill those people? Or would the Joan Walshes of the world find that notion ludicrous (perhaps even "really ludicrous")? It seems reasonable to surmise that the war on marijuana increases the number of occasions for the police to use force, with sometimes deadly results. After all, you don't hear about too many people gunned down by the cops for selling roses on the street corner, do you? So if it is reasonable to surmise that about marijuana, then why not about tobacco, too?

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  1. The suggestion that high taxes might have helped kill Garner enraged those who like them.

    Wrong villain. A politician is thrilled to side with the common man against police abuse, but against legislative or regulatory abuse? That’s like asking a mother to admit her child is evil.

    1. That’s like asking a mother to admit her child is evil baby is ugly.

      Alternative ending…

  2. Anyone who likes high taxes is evil.

  3. After all, you don’t hear about too many people gunned down by the cops for selling roses on the street corner, do you?

    But we do hear about people gunned down for whittling blocks of wood, holding toy guns, asking for help after a breakdown, driving a truck that looks vaguely like one the police don’t like, etc. Cops absolutely will stop people just to stop them and kill someone in the process.

    1. That’s why there needs to be 85% fewer pigs on the streets.

      Fewer pigs=fewer pig murders.

      And then the remaining pigs might just focus on apprehending real criminals who have victims.

      1. or maybe a focus on keeping the peace and less on solving people’s annoyances and pet peaves.

    2. After all, you don’t hear about too many people gunned down by the cops for selling roses on the street corner, do you?

      I bet there are plenty of cases where those people have been hassled, ticketed, arrested, and jailed.

      Which means that the fact (if it is a fact) that none has been killed is pure happenstance.

  4. Joan Walsh: Beyond that, we don’t even know for sure that Garner was selling loose cigarettes at the time he was taken into custody and killed.

    Eric Garner: You want to stop me [garbled] Selling cigarettes. I’m minding my business, officer, I’m minding my business. Please just leave me alone. I told you the last time, please just leave me alone.”

    To say “we don’t even know for sure” is a lame dodge. Based on Garner’s words, the police were under the impression that he was selling cigarettes without paying the state’s taxes, and that was their reason for harassing and killing him.

    Joan Walsh:I’m not sure I can think of a case of a cop shooting anyone over selling something without charging/paying taxes, ever, in my lifetime.

    You mean Joan Walsh wasn’t alive for the Prohibition-era? She does look like an old enough hag to have been one of Capone’s gun molls.

    ABH: They are also a mode of social engineering. At more than $5 a pack, they are meant to discourage smoking.

    I disagree. They are meant to extract money from a group of people who are psychologically and physiologically disadvantaged from making a rational economic choice to reduce or stop the taxed activity. Put simply, they’re extracting money from addicts.

  5. Another aspect of this stuff is: Why is selling “loosies” a crime?

    If Garner bought the packaged cigarettes legally, paying the tax in the process, aren’t they then *his* cigarettes to do with as he wishes?

    “Sure, Brother, I’ve give you one of my smokes. Hey, got 75 cents for my bus fare?”

    1. But but but.. how will the consumer see the sturgeon general’s warning on loosies? They won’t be dissuaded from smoking!

      1. Excellent point. They might not know cigarettes are bad for them.

        Thank god for government.

  6. Um…

    I gotta an overall solution:

    Less government


    1. Fewer bullshit laws to break
    2. Fewer fucking cops to enforce bullshit laws.
    3. Fewer murders by fucking cops.

    1. Less government means less overt control means less recourse to authority means fewer options to right wrongs means justice left undone means injustices abetted means even more black men gunned down in the streets.

      Or something to that effect.

    2. How can you have less government without more government to keep itself in check?


  7. I’m just waiting for the anti-cat-calling legislation to come out. Because a black man getting beaten or killed by police for cat-calling a white woman would in no way increase racial tensions in this country.


  8. Joan Walsh can only believe that a white a man can kill a black man because he hates negroes. What a narrow-minded harpy. I think most people will at least give a cop a break on that one and rather insist that he killed the guy because he didn’t respect his authoritey. Of course, Joan Walshes of the world would see that statement as proving their point because they are unable to think outside of the cultish narrative that they recite dogmatically inside their tiny fundie minds.

    1. Her ilk believe it’s a racial thing and all that’s needed is ‘better training.’

      Half-twits and quarter-twats will believe this.

      They won’t look at the underlying law (including taxes) that creates this problem.

  9. “Did marijuana prohibition kill those people? Or would the Joan Walshes of the world find that notion ludicrous (perhaps even “really ludicrous”)?”

    The Joan Walshes of the world operate their minds on parallel tracks re marijuana and tobacco.

    Marijuana is the cool, mellow drug they smoked in college while listening to Bob Marley and making out with people whose last names they didn’t know. The idea of anyone being killed over marijuana is horrific.

    Tobacco is a poison pumped out by large corporations. The Joan Walshes of the world remember fondly the anti-Joe Camel campaigns they joined as college students. Of course nobody’s death should be linked to anti-tobacco laws – the only deaths are associated with smoking the deadly weed!

  10. Normally, if someone evades taxes, the government first sends out a notice, then it reaches into their bank account, and finally, as a last resort, seizes their home. The latter can certainly lead to violence. But it seems that they didn’t go through these preliminary steps with Garner – they went straight to violence.

    1. They didn’t kill him for tax evasion. They killed him for failure to obey. The tax evasion was just the pretext for giving the cops an opportunity to kill someone for failure to obey.

    2. Any refusal to pay a fine or tax can lead to an arrest warrant being issued.

      Which is a license for armed agents of the state to inflict violence on you.

      1. OK, did they have a warrant against Garner?

        1. they had no warrant. They just had a ridiculous law they wanted to enforce. At some point, Garner could (should) have stopped resisting since physical confrontation with armed agents of the state rarely goes well for citizens, but in the end, you have a man dying in connection with a law on selling cigarettes.

  11. It’s amusing and depressing at the same time to have to listen to left-wingers babble about how those who are ignorant about history are bound to repeat it sometimes using Prohibition as an example (they cherry pick because they’re factually challenged and have a remedial grasp of history) yet they scoff at the idea smoking laws create black markets and lead to deaths. They can’t seem to connect dots very well.

    Joan Walsh is a prime example of progressives convinced state power in of itself is not a problem. They can’t conceive that the state enforces and kills people for the stupidest of things.

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