Protests against the decision to let Pantaleo walk were fueled by outrage over other police killings: from Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Aug. 9; to Akai Gurley, shot and killed in a Brooklyn stairwell Nov. 20 by a cop who claims his gun accidentally discharged; to 12-year-old Tamir Rice, shot by Cleveland cops two seconds after they pulled their car up next to him in a city park Nov. 22.
“I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,” demonstrators around the country shouted, the same words Garner repeated 11 times July 19 while cops choked him and pinned him down on the sidewalk outside a beauty supplies store in Staten Island for allegedly selling loose cigarettes without collecting New York tax.
Grand juries are secret. Witnesses are called entirely by decision of the prosecutor without a judge present, and prosecutors run roughshod over the rights of those forced to testify.
In the case of cops who commit crimes, however, grand juries such as the one in Staten Island are routinely used to make sure no charges are brought.
NBC TV news reported Dec. 5 that in the Garner case Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan instructed the grand jury to consider manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide charges. The records of the Staten Island grand jury have not been made public, unlike the grand jury proceedings in the case of Darren Wilson’s killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson.
The prosecutor “was asking all the questions toward Eric,” Ramsey Orta told the New York Daily News, describing being called before the grand jury. Orta filmed a widely viewed video of the cops attacking Garner. “‘What was Eric doing there? Why was Eric there?’ Nothing pertaining to the cop choking him.”
One difference between the killing of Brown and that of Garner is that the entire police assault on Garner was caught on video.
“Every time you see me, you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. It stops today,” Garner, 43, can be heard telling two undercover cops.
Pantaleo grabbed Garner around the neck and with the help of three other cops threw him to the ground and kept him in a chokehold. Pantaleo pushed Garner’s head to the sidewalk and held him down with his knee while other officers piled on his back and handcuffed him.
Pantaleo told the grand jury that “it was never his intention to injure or harm anyone,” his lawyer told the press.
The autopsy report said that the primary causes of Garner’s death were “compression of neck, compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.” The medical examiner classified it as “homicide.”
Many politicians and commentators who backed the decision not to indict Wilson in Ferguson distanced themselves from the Staten Island grand jury decision. They pointed to the fact there was a fight between Wilson and Brown in Wilson’s police car and to the testimony of some witnesses that after running away, Brown turned and advanced toward the cop, showing Wilson was justified in feeling threatened.
“I think anybody who looks at the [Garner] video would think this was the wrong judgment,” conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer said, calling the grand jury decision not to indict Pantaleo “totally incomprehensible.”
State laws are written to offer maximum latitude to the cops. The New York Post used this in their effort to justify the killing. Referring to “ubiquitous allegations that cops are treated ‘differently’ than ordinary citizens in deadly-forces cases,” columnist Bob McManus said, “Indeed they are — and it is the law itself that confers the privilege.” By arguing with the cops and not immediately submitting to arrest, Garner “was a victim of himself,” McManus said.
NY mayor: unite cops, community
In a Dec. 3 statement liberal Democrat New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said his goal is bringing “police and community closer together and changing the culture of law enforcement.” He is doing so, de Blasio said, through reducing stop-and-frisk, retraining cops, lowering the number of marijuana arrests and launching “a new pilot program for body cameras for officers to improve transparency and accountability.” A few days later, when asked about the grand jury decision, he replied, “I support the process.”
De Blasio neglected to mention one of the central policies of his administration, so-called broken windows policing, where cops systematically write out tickets and arrest people for lesser “offenses,” like the move to arrest Garner for selling individual cigarettes without charging sales tax. Arrests for peddling and panhandling have more than tripled since de Blasio took office.
“It’s so easy to get a grand jury to indict a civilian,” Constance Malcolm told the Militant Dec. 6. “But all the cop has to say is he feared for his life, like the cop said in my son’s case, and there’s no indictment.” Malcolm has helped spearhead protests since her unarmed son, Ramarley Graham, was shot dead in 2012 by cop Richard Haste in the bathroom of Malcolm’s home. A grand jury indictment of Haste was thrown out on a technicality and a second grand jury refused to issue charges against him.
Malcolm scoffed at de Blasio’s call for police reform. “I can’t say I’m for the body cameras either,” she said, noting that the whole incident with Garner was videoed. “The cops have a badge and a gun and think they can do anything.”
Malcolm was at the front of one of the largest actions against the Garner verdict, a march of 5,000 in Manhattan Dec. 4. As in other actions nationwide, protesters chanted, “No justice, no peace, no racist police.” Many held signs that said, “Black lives matter.”
A large number of those demonstrating were union members, including SEIU1199 health care workers and members of the United Federation of Teachers. Malcolm is a member of 1199. One striking side of the Dec. 4 action here was its breadth. Close to a majority were Caucasian, reflecting the growing solidarity against police brutality and greater interest in taking action among workers, no matter what their skin color.
Most killed by cops are Caucasian
While Blacks are disproportionately victims of police killings — young Black men are 21 times more likely to be killed by cops than young Caucasian men, the New York Times reported — the majority of those killed by cops across the U.S. are Caucasian. Fox News reported that 123 Blacks and 326 Caucasians were shot dead by police in 2012.
“Even though I kind of expected the verdict, it’s really frustrating that the police are not held accountable,” said Luna Lorde, a nurse who lives on Staten Island. “It’s not that race isn’t involved, but it’s also about abuse of power.”
Staten Island high school student Allison Hagan said that there are many viewpoints about the decision not to indict Pantaleo among people she knows, “but I think it’s messed up.”
“The police officer who killed Eric Garner should face some consequences, whether it was intentional or not,” said Staten Island resident Roxanne Ingoe. “But the police department and the prosecutors, they stick together to present a united front.”
Cop brutality: Key part of capitalist rule
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