I know that somewhere inside I am angry but all I can feel tonight is profound grief at the news of the NY grand jury no bill in the homicide of Eric Garner.
That the trained officer did not intend to kill Eric Garner does not mean the actions were not criminal. People get indicted and convicted in MA in so-called "one punch manslaughter" cases. Really – a single punch. Person falls and hits his head and dies. Homicide. No weapon – no intent to kill, but it still can be manslaughter.
Choke holds are illegal and against procedure in NY. That is because a choke hold is notoriously dangerous precisely because it can kill – it results in unintended deaths. The officer's use of the choke hold was illegal. Period. It was not in self defense or defense of another. It happened when the officer came up behind Mr. Garner and put him in the choke hold. And keep in mind that Garner was suspected of the nonviolent misdemeanor of selling loose cigarettes? It might have been different if the police had been unable to know there was a problem, if Mr. Garner hadn't yelled in that panicked voice "I can't breathe." But he did. Eleven times, loud enough to be audible several feet away and captured on the cell phone video of the event. And then he was dead. Unlike the events in Ferguson that ended in the shooting death of Michael Brown, there is no dispute about the facts that led to the death of this unarmed man. Not because there were law enforcement body cams, but because a citizen recorded it with a cell phone.
I understand that the grand jurors may have felt some sympathy for the officer when he testified because he did not mean to kill Mr Garner. Mr Garner's death is a tragedy for everyone directly involved: Garner's mother, wife and children and the officer and his family. But as Mr Garner's wife said today, the officer is home with his family and able to feed his kids while Eric is six feet under and she has to deal with that loss and try to figure out how to support her kids. I wonder where was the empathy for Eric Garner in that grand jury room? This is not a close case so where was the prosecutor who was presenting the evidence? The evidence was more than sufficient to establish probable cause to indict, a very low legal standard, especially considering the whole thing was caught on tape. And so the tragedy mutates and becomes a travesty when the grand jury chooses not to apply the law.
There is a motto that hangs over many courthouse doors but until we address the problems in our criminal injustice system, the motto may as well read "Unequal justice under the law."
When will we heal the racial and economic disparities and outrages in this country? Why do so many white people remain silent and with our silence condone this inhumanity that is literally killing black people and their communities? When will we do what we all know is right? What will it take before we really mean it and commit ourselves to honoring and protecting every person's human, civil and constitutional rights? Until we do this equally we will never have equality under the law.
My thoughts are with Eric Garner's family and all of my black friends, many of whom are reeling tonight.