I CAN’T BREATHE: Staten Island Grand Jury Shown A Snuff Film, Shrugs And Asks Where’s The Harm?



NEW YORK TIMES: The Staten Island grand jury must have seen the same video everyone else did: the one showing a group of New York City police officers swarming and killing an unarmed black man, Eric Garner. Yet they have declined to bring charges against the plainclothes officer, Daniel Pantaleo, who is seen on the video girdling Mr. Garner’s neck in a chokehold, which the department bans, throwing him to the ground and pushing his head into the pavement. The imbalance between Mr. Garner’s fate, on a Staten Island sidewalk in July, and his supposed infraction, selling loose cigarettes, is grotesque and outrageous. Though Mr. Garner’s death was officially ruled a homicide, it is not possible to pierce the secrecy of the grand jury, and thus to know why the jurors did not believe that criminal charges were appropriate. What is clear is this was vicious policing and an innocent man is dead. Another conclusion is also obvious. Officer Pantaleo was stripped of his gun and badge; he needs to be stripped of his job. He used forbidden tactics to brutalize a citizen who was not acting belligerently, posed no risk of flight, brandished no weapon and was heavily outnumbered. Any police department that tolerates such conduct, and whose officers are unable or unwilling to defuse such confrontations without killing people, needs to be reformed. And though the chance of a local criminal case is now foreclosed, the Justice Department is right to swiftly investigate what certainly seem like violations of Mr. Garner’s civil rights. MORE

At some point between the moment a Missouri grand jury refused to indict a police officer who had shot and killed Michael Brown on a Ferguson street and the moment a New York grand jury refused to indict a police officer who choked and killed Eric Garner on a Staten Island sidewalk — on video, as he struggled to utter the words, “I can’t breathe!” — a counternarrative to this nation’s calls for change has taken shape. This narrative paints the police as under siege and unfairly maligned while it admonishes — and, in some cases, excoriates — those demanding changes in the wake of the Ferguson shooting.

The argument is that this is not a perfect case, because Brown — and, one would assume, now Garner — isn’t a perfect victim and the protesters haven’t all been perfectly civil, so therefore any movement to counter black oppression that flows from the case is inherently flawed. But this is ridiculous and reductive, because it fails to acknowledge that the whole system is imperfect and rife with flaws. We don’t need to identify angels and demons to understand that inequity is hell.

The Mike-or-Eric-as-faces-of-black-oppression arguments swing too wide, and they miss. So does the protesters-as-movement-killers argument. The responses so far have only partly been specific to a particular case. Much of it is about something larger and more general: racial inequality and criminal justice. People want to be assured of equal application of justice and equal — and appropriate — use of police force, and to know that all lives are equally valued. The data suggests that, in the nation as a whole, that isn’t so. Racial profiling is real. Disparate treatment of black and brown men by police officers is real. Grotesquely disproportionate numbers of killings of black men by the police are real. MORE

MOTHER JONES: The Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that between 2003 and 2009 there were more than 2,900 arrest-related deaths involving law enforcement. Averaged over seven years, that’s about 420 deaths a year. While BJS does not provide the annual number of arrest-related deaths by race or ethnicity, a rough calculation based on its data shows that black people were about four times as likely to die in custody or while being arrested than whites. MORE

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The power of the State—of government, in other words—is awesome. And nowhere is that power greater than when it controls life, death, and liberty. The Framers knew this kind of power can corrupt and believed in the principle, articulated much later by Lord Acton, that absolute power corrupts absolutely. They also believed that such power could be grossly misused in the hands not just of individuals acting on behalf of the State but also on behalf of the majority population, creating, in the words of John Adams, “tyranny of the majority.” The whole constitutional structure, and the civil liberties built into the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, are grounded in those beliefs. MORE

That immense power over liberty and life is especially evident in the criminal-justice system, in the hands of police and prosecutors. The deep suspicion of governmental power that animates not just the Framers but also philosophical conservatives demands a vigorous effort to curb that power and provide the necessary and appropriate checks and balances to the police and prosecutors who wield it. That effort has rarely been there, with notable exceptions in the libertarian world that I will discuss below.

Why? One main reason is that conservatism has another strain: of intense respect for the existing order, a fear that it can be undermined by crime or disorder, and the belief that police and prosecutors are the front line of protecting that order. Another reason is that the abuses of power are most harmful to those who are weak, limited, and poor, and disproportionately minorities. There is a racial element here, but one does not have to be racist to believe that arrests or traffic stops by police, or stop-and-frisk policies, only occur where crimes have been committed or there is real and reasonable suspicion of same—and that if one is not guilty, one will either go free or suffer the indignity of an undeserved traffic ticket; no big deal. That bigger indignities are suffered by the poor and minorities doesn’t resonate for those who have never experienced the problems. MORE



THE ATLANTIC: Following the announcement Wednesday that a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict the NYPD officer who placed Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that Garner would not have died if he hadn’t been so “obese.” “If he had not had asthma and a heart condition and was so obese, almost definitely he would not have died from this,” King said. “The police had no reason to know he was in serious condition.” King questioned whether Garner had pleaded for help, telling Blitzer, “The fact is, if you can’t breathe, you can’t talk.” He added: “I have no doubt if that was a 350-pound white guy, he would have been treated the same.” MORE