While the death of Eric Garner in police custody is a tragedy that must be fully investigated to see if it warrants criminal charges or at least disciplinary action, it should not be exploited to stir up fear and division among city residents. Nor should it be used as an excuse to attack yet another of the Police Department’s most successful tactics. Yet that’s exactly what appears to be happening.
Garner died last Thursday in Staten Island while resisting arrest for allegedly selling illegal, single cigarettes. One of the several officers trying to take him into custody apparently used a chokehold, a violation of Police Department policy. An asthmatic, overweight man, Garner told the cops he couldn’t breathe, but they didn’t seem too concerned about that. Neither did the Emergency Medical Service personnel who responded. Garner died where he fell.
In response, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton correctly ordered a review of how police are trained to take people into custody. He says he will oversee the analysis himself, observing the training firsthand. He also put the chokehold officer and a second one on modified duty as the incident is investigated. The same was done to the EMS personnel.
Garner’s death is being probed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, whose agents have already spoken to Bratton, as a prelude to any charges that may be brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office (which, incidentally, just demonstrates that the NYPD had no need for the new inspector general position recently thrust upon it by the City Council. Whatever investigation the IG may do isn’t really important compared to one by the FBI that may lead to federal charges).
Of course the Rev. Al Sharpton and other “civil rights” leaders are out there protesting Garner’s death. The deceased was a black man. The activists never protest black-on-black crime, which is far more prevalent than police brutality and results in far too many murders in the city — though they do occasionally lead a march decrying violence in general. But we already know what to expect of the likes of Sharpton and groups such as Communities United for Police Reform.
Notice how there's no outrage from this crew when a rookie female cop gets her teeth knocked out by some thug in Harlem, as happened last Sunday, when she and her partner tried to bust him for smoking pot. Guess they shouldn't have had the nerve to seek an arrest for such a minor crime, so she deserves it, right Rev. Al?
What’s more disturbing is when elected officials jump on the same bandwagon. Councilman Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn, for one, has likened Garner’s death to those of other black people wrongly killed by police, such as Amadou Diallo. But Diallo wasn’t resisting arrest and didn’t die in part due to his health problems, like Garner; he was shot by officers who mistook his phone for a gun in the dark. The comparison is invalid, and only serves to raise tensions.
Meanwhile many of the activists are also seeking to rein in the police and let people get away with relatively minor crimes like selling illegal cigarettes. They’re attacking the NYPD for adhering to broken windows theory, the concept that says that if lesser crimes are allowed to go unchallenged, they create an atmosphere of lawlessness and lead to bigger ones. It’s absolutely been proven to be true, despite the critics’ denials — nowhere more so than in this very city, under this very police commissioner, back in the 1990s. It’s a key reason the murder rate fell from its high of 2,245 in 1990 to fewer than 340 last year.
Police critics in and out of government forced the city to announce it was drastically reducing the use of stop and frisk to pat down suspicious people for weapons, and the result is this year’s rise in shootings. Now they want to allow relatively minor crimes such as the one Garner allegedly committed to go unaddressed. Bratton refuses to let that happen. He knows the way to respond to this incident is to investigate it and discipline or bring charges against the officers if warranted. It’s a good thing he’s in charge.