Eric Garner

Want to Prevent Future Eric Garners? Don't Give Cops Excuses to Bust People.

To reduce violent encounters between police and the public, slash the spiderweb of laws, rules, and regulations.


Eric Garner
Video screen capture

Only Officer Daniel Pantaleo knows what motivated him to confront and ultimately kill Eric Garner—and what spurred him in previous incidents that drew two civil rights lawsuits during his eight years with the New York Police Department. Maybe he's a racist. Maybe he's a martinet. Maybe he's just an asshole. The fact of the matter is, it's difficult to think of a good reason for killing a man who attracted police attention by breaking up a fight and peddling a few untaxed cigarettes.

There's no doubt that minority communities get more than their fair share of police attention. New York City's notorious "stop and frisk" policy has disproportionately targeted blacks and Hispanics—even though the city concedes that whites are more likely to be found to be carrying guns and drugs. Nationally, young black men are 21 times more likely to be shot dead by police, reports ProPublica.

Unsurprisingly, Reason-Rupe polling finds white Americans are much more likely than blacks and Hispanics to have favorable opinions of police.

But the same can be said of older and more affluent Americans relative to younger ones. That's because race isn't the ultimate determinant of a nasty encounter with law enforcement—that's largely a function of drawing police attention, and there are different ways of doing that, most of which give wealthy senior citizens a pass.

Kelly Thomas
Ron Thomas

One of the nastier deaths by cop of recent years was the killing of Kelly Thomas, a white, homeless schizophrenic who was beat to death by police in Fullerton, California, after offering little if any resistance to a search. The officers actually went to trial after intense public pressure, but were acquitted.

Drawing police attention, with all of its potential consequences, has become increasingly easy given the proliferation of excuses for cops to roust the public. As Professor Stephen Carter of Yale Law School wrote, citing the work of legal scholar Douglas Husak, "More than 70 percent of American adults have committed a crime that could lead to imprisonment."

In response, Professor David Gray of the University of Maryland School of Law commented:

70 percent seems low to me. Once you factor in illegal drug use, crimes of recklessness (which seldom are detected because no harm accrues), downloading, DUI, failures to report income, and the scores of relatively innocuous offenses that just happen to carry the possibility of jail time in some jurisdictions, I'd be surprised if the percentage wasn't much higher than 70 percent over the course of most adults' lifetimes.

The vast majority of us are lawbreakers, just hoping that law enforcers don't notice. If they do notice, we're dependent on whatever sense of mercy they might possess, and vulnerable to any prejudices and demons that might drive them.

Those demons might be racism—experience suggests they often are. They might be anger issues, which researchers find heighten police perceptions of danger and subsequent reactions. Or the police might actually be encouraged to view the public at large as enemies in need of control and suppression.

It would be nice if that last point weren't so important, but it is. The militarization of policing that finally hit the headlines this year with the eruption in Ferguson after Michael Brown's death isn't so troubling because police departments picked up some armored vehicles and camouflage courtesy of the federal government. The real problem is that they've also adopted an army of occupation mentality to accompany the GI Joe gear. In its recent report on police militarization, the American Civil Liberties Union described police training materials that repeatedly invoke terms like "warrior mindset" and "battlemind," which is defined as "a warrior's inner strength to face fear and adversity during combat."

"Battlemind"? Maybe in Fallujah. But that's a dangerous attitude to bring to encounters with the occasional loosie peddler or homeless guy.

Police departments even inject that adrenaline-fueled, confrontational attitude into their recruitment efforts. That's all too apparent in the much-discussed "Are You Qualified" video produced by the Newport Beach Police Department—just a few miles from where Kelly Thomas was stomped.

To his credit, after public revulsion at a grand jury's failure to indict Pantaleo for killing Eric Garner, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he wants to "retrain" the entire NYPD to reduce officers' reliance on violence in encounters with the public and to (somehow) root out bigotry. If he does nothing more than drop some of that emphasis on "battlemind," that might be beneficial.

But this is the same Mayor de Blasio why says "the law is the law" and insists that police "strictly enforce" the myriad rules and regulations that turn 70 percent (or more) of us into criminals, and create unpleasant encounters between cops and the public. Despite earlier promises, he opposes efforts to further restrict stop-and-frisk targeting of the public by police.

And each of those encounters will always be an opportunity for violence, and for inner prejudices beyond the reach of any seminar to come into play.

Do you really want to reduce the chance of future Eric Garners? Then slash the spiderweb of laws, rules, and regulations that turn the majority of Americans into criminals, and make us all potential targets for the police and whatever inner demons drive them.

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  1. Or maybe – get this – the death was unintentional, and the arrest was for, er, breaking the law, repeatedly enough that he was known to cops as “cigarette man”?

    Look, we can argue fairly – and I’m in absolute agreement – that it’s a stupid law.

    But that’s the problem with laws.

    Writeups that simple assume the goal was to kill the man, as this does – be it from intent or from sloppy writing – do nobody any service here.

    1. Is there actually any evidence he was breaking the law on this particular occasion? If there is, I haven’t seen it mentioned in any media articles.

      1. Regardless.

        If it were a mall security guard/team and his boss asked him/them to escort ‘cigarette man’ off the property and ‘cigarette man’ ended up choked to death, would there be zero indictments and all employment agreements standing in full force?

        If, in the process of escorting someone off my or anyone else’s property, I choked someone to death, could I expect the same presumption of innocence and/or ‘doing my duty’?

        I’m dubious.

        1. Agreed. But a lot people (like Sigivald) think: he broke the law, therefore he deserves whatever happens to him. Even if you accept that logic, there’s no evidence I know of to support the claim that he broke the law.

          1. Yeah, sry, didn’t mean ‘regardless’ in contradiction to your assertions, but on top of it;

            There’s zero evidence he was guilty, even if he was 100% guilty to the fullest extent of the law and the choking was simply an accident; that still leaves plenty of room for public scrutiny/ire/sloppy writing; just ask Brendan Eich.

    2. Re-read it. He does not say the goal was to kill the man.

    3. At least we know you went to an effective obedience school.

    4. Or maybe – get this – the death was unintentional, and the arrest was

      Ok, so he was negligently killed by a bunch of cops. What difference does that make?

      for, er, breaking the law, repeatedly enough that he was known to cops as “cigarette man”?

      He wasn’t breaking any laws at all, and the cops had no probable cause to arrest him when they killed him.

      So, we now have a man who wasn’t breaking any laws who was negligently killed by the cops.

      Why your proposing this as a counter-narrative that somehow undermines the out-of-control police state narrative, I have no idea.

    5. Apparently, non-compliance with ANY law = death at the hands of the State. You heard it here first!

  2. To play devil’s advocate. Let’s take a European nation such as Germany, which has a low rate of officer’s killing civilians. Are you going to say that that nation is not as over regulated as ours? IOW how much does culture matter?

      1. I was in Munich and asked the family friend who was showing me around about this. According to him, they don’t seem to have “local” police; so, for instance, there was no Munich PD, nor were there town police departments (which I confirmed on my drive out to Neuschwanstein). Most of the policing was done by State Police, so for Munich that would have been the Bavarian State Police. And overall, there were just a lot less total police than you might see in the US. Especially outside Munich. No police at all that I saw.

        Not having speed limits on a lot of sections of road cuts down on your police forces too I’m sure. No revenue stream!

        1. Wait, fewer laws means fewer people being harassed by cops? But “liberals” told me that cops just need more sensitivity training and they can enforce more laws and no one gets hurt.

        2. Actually, the “no speed limit” sections make it more likely that you get a ticket, because they are frequently broken up by sections with speed limits, and if you don’t slow down precisely, you will get a ticket.

          What cuts down on police encounters in Germany is that in Germany, the police don’t have to stop you to give you a ticket; they just take down your license plate number and mail it to you.

    1. Perhaps Germany has some sort of umbrella document which protects its citizens from things like random searches and what not. If we had one of those here, maybe we’d have fewer problems.

      1. Wow – I’m not willing to trade my safety for something crazy like THAT!

        No wai

      2. I wish we had something like that. We could call it something catchy like the fourth amendment or something

        1. 4th amendment? That’s too close to 5th column, terrorist.

        2. Yeah but if we called it the fourth amendment then we’d have to have at least 3 other amendments before it. This doesn’t seem realistic.

      3. Maybe if a bunch of us got together,in Philly maybe, and we wrote something up, we could convince the states to adopt it. But I’m skeptical. How would we persuade state legislatures to abandon the power to conduct random searches or incarcerate people at will? I mean, I mean…sigh…

        1. Philly has some good bars! We can only start doing something this important by getting rip-roaring drunk (preferably, in the middle of summer).

          1. I hear, on good authority, that the very best writers of civil rights legal protections got drunk in Philly bars. Sweet!

      4. No, not really. What Germany has is citizens that obey police pretty much without question. Whether that’s good or bad you have to decide for yourself, but it does cut down on police violence.

  3. Unsurprisingly, Reason-Rupe polling finds white Americans are much more likely than blacks and Hispanics to have favorable opinions of police.

    I don’t think this can continue forever. As more things are banned, are criminalized, whites will have more run-ins with the martinets who think they need to take lawbreaking as a personal slight and act accordingly. Hopefully at some point people will see there are too many damn laws and because of it too many damn police.

  4. Re: the video’s last moment: “This is the Newport Beach Police Department, if you’re inside, make yourself known!”

    What the fuck?

  5. While I fully support cutting back significantly on laws and regulations, another possible response is to cut back significantly on the types of offenses police can arrest you for, at least without first obtaining a warrant.

    I would think that a lot people who think selling untaxed loosies should be illegal would agree that the police should just handle it by giving the guy a citation that tells him to show up in court. What’s the need to arrest him and take him to jail?

    1. I would think that a lot people who think selling untaxed loosies should be illegal would agree that the police should just handle it by giving the guy a citation that tells him to show up in court.

      That’s what police ordinarily do.

      What’s the need to arrest him and take him to jail?

      Police arrest you if you refuse to identify yourself, if you refuse to accept the citation, if you’re violating bail or other court conditions, or if they have some other reason to believe that you won’t actually show up in court.

      Garner had three cases pending against him, was out on bail, and had previously given phony names to police.…..olice.html

      At some point, when people don’t comply with the law, citations don’t make sense anymore and you have to arrest people.

      Now, I think this law is a stupid law, but you can’t blame the police for that.

      1. And your link says he showed up in court on those three cases and the court adjourned the matter, so that seems to show that citations that tell you to show up in court can work perfectly well.

        There’s no evidence that Garner refused to identify himself, refused to accept a citation, or was violating any bail or court conditions on the occasion he was killed. So what’s the relevance of that claim?

  6. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

  7. I see nothing wrong with the video. Since most of your time is actually spent driving around in a car eating donuts, which is extremely boring, this video will allow you to falsely recruit action/violence junkies. Good way to get people. Now these may be the same kind of people who get bored and decide they need to beat the shit out of someone and use all their fancy weaponry, but hey, that’s what it’s there for!

  8. Nope nope nope. I have been assured that this is completely about racism and our boys in blue are beset by demons which make them do racist things, even though we all know that no one in authority, ever, would kill people to enforce the laws that we all* agreed on.

    *all meaning some.

  9. As many of the posts above illustrate, pointing to a cigarette tax is doing little to advance the cause of liberty. Most Americans believe that taxes, in general, are necessary.

    The problem at hand is that the police are acting like an occupying force. Many of us were disappointed in the Ferguson case because the actions of Brown muddied the water when it came to police brutality. With Garner, we have a much cleaner case (and video!) that shows police are out of bounds, but we’re getting distracted by a side issue.

    1. But why are they acting like an kccupying force and why are there so many of them. It all goes back to policy.

      1. Not just petty enforcement. From welfare to rent seeking regulations to wod to wot its a giant clusterfuck destained for catastrophe

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    1. Was the job selling loosies on Staten Island?

  11. A guest during Uprisings on KPFA mentioned the odious regulation as a tool of racism and Sonali Kolhotkar about shit a somosa trying to ignore it and move the conversation away from that obvious point.

  12. In my judgement, this is wrong. I really, really doubt police need excuses if they want to fuck with someone & think they can get away with it?and excuses aren’t really necessary. If the only thing in the world illegal were playing the oboe out of tune, they’d’ve said Garner was playing an oboe out of tune.

  13. Right. If we just decriminalize all human activity, there won’t be any need for the police. How thought provoking. How incredibly stupid.

    1. Saying that we would benefit from decriminalizing a lot of activities is not the same as demanding decriminalization of everything. Is that concept too had to grasp for a “FloridaProf”?

      1. FloridaProf = Copsucker.

    2. That isn’t what is being said, and if you don’t bloody well know it I must say I’m astonished you can type. Most people that stupid have enough trouble remembering to breathe.

      There are too goddamned many laws that have nothing to do with immediate harm to persona or property, but rather with speculation about possible harm in the future or with trying to keep people from doing things believed to be harmful to themselves. Remove this haze of pettifogging buttinskiism and the police will be left with far fewer excuses to roust random citizens just because they woke up on the wrong side of the bed.

    3. Hyperbole is an admission to the failure that you cannot argue the actual point.

  14. Until we treat cannabis like tomatoes people will still get killed over it. Eric Garner. Harassed over cigarette taxes. Ultimately killed for failure to OBEY.


  15. A little perspective. A carton of American Spirit organic cigarette’s cost’s about 50$ in the southern U.S. Where I live they run around 100$. I can’t imagine what a carton would cost in New York city, Boston, or Canada.

    “The vast majority of us are lawbreakers, just hoping that law enforcers don’t notice.”

    Over Taxation/Regulation = Petty Criminals

  16. In reality what got Eric killed was NYC’s nanny laws and the desire for more tax money to fund their liberal left wing political agenda.The police were order to go into this district of NY and arrest people for selling cigarettes illegally.Eric was selling single cigs without the cities tax added.Huge crime?Forget the gang-bangers,thugs, and murderers walking the streets of NY and concentrate on NY not getting its taxes on illegal cigarettes.That is what got him killed…Liberal nanny laws and the desire for control and power by the politicians in NYC.

    1. No. AFAICT, they just wanted to fuck with him & fuck him up. He wasn’t selling cigarets, and people who do sell them individually buy them at retail, so the resale biz if anything increases the tax revenue. Given that they wanted to fuck with him, it wouldn’t matter what laws exist that people might break, as long as there’s even a single thing that remains illegal.

  17. I keep hearing that because the city grand jury refused to indict, that is the end of the state prosecution.
    But everybody seems to be missing a very simple fact of legal criminal procedure:
    a “NO BILL” return from a grand jury, is NOT a bar to attempting to get another indictment from another grand jury. There is no double jeopardy bar for a prosecutor to try to get and indictment as many times as he wants.
    Prosecutors commonly reindict criminals, after not getting and indictment in the first place, with the same evidence and charge.
    I don’t know why every pundit or talking head doesn’t report this fact.
    I suggest everyone here please repost this point of law, so that we can all be educated about it.

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