[News] The Ugly Idea That Killed Eric Garner

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Dec 5 12:57:38 EST 2014

  The Ugly Idea That Killed Eric Garner


by *Kai Wright <http://colorlines.com/archives/author/kai-wright>*, 
Thursday, December 4 2014, 7:00 AM EST

Jewell Miller is the mother of Eric Garner's infant daughter. Yesterday, 
she spoke with a New York Times reporter as she pushed her 7-month-old 
girl around the scene of the two crimes---Garner's alleged* trespass of 
New York tax law, and the New York Police Department's crime against 
humanity. "Again the system has failed us," Miller told the reporter. 
"How? How? I don't know how." But she did know how, and so she answered 
herself. "I think he has done the job that he was trained to do," she 
said of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose chokehold ended Garner's life, 
"and I think he did a good job---to kill us."

It's unfair to say NYPD officers are trained to kill black people. But 
Miller isn't using hyperbole when she says Pantaleo was doing his job 
and doing it well when he encountered Garner on July 17. For nearly a 
generation, it has been NYPD's explicit policy to marshal a big response 
to small things, to treat the illegal distribution of 75 cent loosies 
with the gravity of a violent felony. This approach has been so widely 
recreated in cities around the country that broken windows policing, as 
it's called, is now synonymous with effective policing. And it is this 
noxious, conventional wisdom that a grand jury failed to indict yesterday.

Officer Pantaleo may or may not ultimately be held accountable for his 
crime---by the department, by the feds or by the heavens. Whatever 
happens, justice does not lie in his fate. Justice will be found in the 
degree to which Mayor Bill de Blasio lives into the words he spoke 
following the grand jury announcement.

"There is a momentum for change that will be felt in every 
neighborhood," de Blasio insisted, ticking off reforms already 
underway---a pilot program for body cams on cops, some decriminalization 
of marijuana possession, new limits on stop-and-frisk. But in 
considering reform, it's instructive to revisit the circumstances that 
led Pantaleo to grab Garner around the neck and drag him to the ground.

As WNYC's Robert Lewis reported 
<http://www.wnyc.org/story/face-broken-windows/> back in September, 
Pantaleo is a poster boy for broken windows policing. He's been on the 
force since 2007, and in that time records show him as the arresting 
officer in 259 criminal court cases. They are overwhelmingly for minor 
crimes like pot possession; just 24 of them were for felonies. 
"Two-thirds of Pantaleo's cases that made it to court ended with a 
dismissal or a guilty plea to a disorderly conduct violation," Lewis 
reported, "which is a little more serious than a speeding ticket. He is 
one of the most active cops on Staten Island."

This is what broken windows cops are supposed to do. They beef up their 
ranks in priority neighborhoods and get in folks' faces over anything 
and everything. I've lived in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, for about a 
decade. Our neighborhood has for many years been on NYPD's list of 
target spots for broken windows---"impact zones," as they're called. 
It's unexceptional here to swap stories of run-ins with bizarrely 
unreasonable cops---telling us stop lingering by the subway entrance, to 
get out of the street, to move along. Eric Garner's frustrated response 
to that constant harassment will appear routine to anyone who's lived in 
neighborhoods like ours. He'd just broken up a fight, and now here was 
NYPD in his face, again. "Every time you see me you wanna arrest me," 
Garner snapped. "I'm tired of it. It stops today."

NYPD brass had ordered the 120th precinct to make a priority out of 
interrupting the sale of untaxed cigarettes, according to a Daily News 
just after Garner's death. It was a recurring "quality-of-life" issue, a 
spokesperson told the paper. Garner had been arrested for violating New 
Yorkers' quality of life in this way eight times. So Pantaleo and his 
colleagues were doing their job and doing it well. And when Garner 
pushed back on their outsized response to his petty alleged crime, they 
escalated further. After all, that is the oxymoronic premise of broken 
windows policing: the cops should escalate things in order to keep 
things under control, and that will keep us all safe.

The contradictions within this idea beg unpleasant questions: Who is us 
and what is danger? Commissioner Bill Bratton gave some indication 
of the us and them of New York City crime and safety not long after he 
took the department's helm. In a March speech at the Waldorf-Astoria, 
Bratton reassured business leaders that he'd stand firm behind broken 
windows policing.

"We will be focusing on ensuring that aggressive begging and squeegee 
pests, all those activities that create fear and destroy neighborhoods, 
graffiti, all those seemingly minor things that were so much in evidence 
in the '80s and early '90s here, don't have the chance to come back." He 
vowed a late-night tour of the subway with criminologist George Kelling, 
one of the intellectual fathers of broken windows. "George and I are 
going to go out, kind of like old times for us, riding the rails and 
getting a sense." But don't worry, he insisted, their Old West posse 
would treat New York City's terrifying "pests"---also known as poor 
people---"respectfully" and "compassionately."

Eleven times Eric Garner told the cops huddled around him that he 
couldn't breathe. His unanswered pleas for respect and compassion echo 
in the canyon that separates the conceptual niceties of broken windows 
from its ugly, grinding reality.

In the hours following the grand jury announcement, the idea of body 
cams for cops morphed quickly from a hopeful reform to a Twitter 
punchline. After all, the whole incident here was recorded and the whole 
world has seen it. Still, maybe body cams will bring some marginal 
reforms; the record's mixed in jurisdictions where they've been 
deployed. But the real killer here isn't in the margins. It's not the 
tools cops use. It's not their training. It's not the rigged game of 
grand juries. At least, these things aren't at root. The root problem is 
a consensus that we make cities safe by harassing the residents of their 
black neighborhoods. It is that idea that must be indicted and convicted 
and put away for good.

/*Post has been updated since publication to reflect that Garner had not 
been convicted of selling loose cigarettes on the day he was killed./

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