“It stops here.”
So declared Eric Garner, vendor of “loosies” — individual cigarettes sold to evade New York state and New York City’s deliberately punitive tobacco taxes. He continued, “I’m minding my business, officer. I’m minding my business. Please just leave me alone. I told you the last time. Please, please, please don’t touch me. Do not touch me.”
Those weren’t quite his last words. As we all know by now, his last were, “I can’t breathe!” — repeated over and over again until he passed out from a chokehold and chest compression, then died as both police and EMTs stood around, indifferent to his suffering, his condition, and his eventual fate.
The EMTs were disciplined for their unprofessionalism and callousness. The man who jumped Garner and initiated his death — we also all know by now — was exonerated by a grand jury. Not even charged with manslaughter — a fact that even the most pro-police conservatives found shocking and liberals and hard-core freedomistas were outraged by.
Never mind that the man in question violently attacked Garner over nothing more than a fed-up, weary verbal protest at being constantly hassled for such a petty (and very libertarian) “crime.” Never mind that he used a chokehold forbidden to NYC police officers for the last 20 years. Never mind that he and his fellow officers held the overweight, unhealthy Garner on the ground in a way that their own police bulletins told them could be deadly. Never mind that he and his accomplices put out an initial story that Garner had died of a simple heart attack, nothing to do with their treatment of him at all, a tale quite at odds with the medical examiner’s report.
Officer Daniel Pantaleo now says he’s sorry and that he prays for Mr. Garner and his family every day.
I guess that makes it okay.
Garner was killed last July. Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was removed from life more recently. So we don’t know yet whether his killer, Officer Timothy Loehmann, is prayerfully sorry or will pretend to be. We don’t know what his “official” cover story is. We don’t know whether Officer Loehmann will get off Scot-free or receive a token wrist-slap. (If I were a betting woman, I wouldn’t put money on the there ever being a murder, or even manslaughter, indictment.)
Some things we do know: Tamir Rice was shot within two seconds of Loehmann’s police car pulling up on the scene. And Loehmann was an emotionally unstable young man, who had already been declared unfit for being a police officer.
Tamir Rice was carrying an Airsoft pistol or some other type of non-firearm. Even the citizen who’d called in the original report of “a guy” carrying a gun had said the gun was “probably fake.” Evidently he assumed that officers would check the situation out rather than instantly opening fire.
We don’t know whether that crucial detail was conveyed to Loehmann and his partner. But we do know that when Loehmann was declared unfit for police work two years earlier, it was after he had an emotional meltdown during live-fire training on a pistol range. (Yes, he was reportedly broken hearted over a relationship gone wrong, but we’ve all been through that, and most of us manage to stay sane, stable, and functional on the job no matter how dark our private moments get. His bosses clearly recognized that guns, cops, and emotional instability were an ugly combo.)
Tamir Rice learned just how ugly. Too bad he had only two seconds to absorb the lesson.
A year earlier, Sonoma County (California) cops gave 13-year-old Andy Lopez a hair more time than that before slaughtering him.
It was about the same with John Crawford III, an innocent Walmart customer murdered last August by police the second they spotted him. They were acting at the behest of a lying phony 911 caller (using a tactic recommended by the Bloomberg moms). Their instantaneous, panicked slaughter was completely unjustified. But of course, being police, they got away with it.
Seems that hoplophobia overrules common sense and judgment — and that that’s just fine when the killers are in that special, exempt class of what David Codrea dubbed “only ones.”
The only ones who consistently get away with behavior that would put you or me in prison for years, if not decades.
These killings have been pinned on racism (though young Andy Lopez was, in the phrase originally coined for George Zimmerman “white-Hispanic”). No doubt fear of black men has something, maybe plenty, to do with it.
The killing of Garner is being pinned on “broken-window policing” (which assumes that those who commit even petty crimes are potential murderers). No doubt that, too, has something to do with why cops feel so entitled to use monstrous force in response to tiny deeds.
Such killings have been blamed on the militarization of police forces, with its attendant mindset that all non-cops are “the enemy.” No doubt that’s true, also. (And getting some very long overdue attention.)
Blame also falls on the concept of “officer safety” — which sounds so sensible in theory but in practice gives cops permission to see themselves as helpless victims, justified in using any amount and kind of force to “protect” themselves even when nobody is threatening them.
Clearly outright hoplophobia — a sheer terror at the very existence of firearms — has to be the major explanation for slaughtering children on sight merely for holding things that look like firearms. (For generations, American kids carried and used guns, both real and fake, without being gunned down for doing so.)
But whatever the individual causes (and I think we can safely say “all of the above”), the major underlying cause for all this is still going largely unexamined (oddly enough, the extreme-left publication The Nation comes closer than anybody else to the real issue — though it ultimately dodges it).
The real problem is that governments created a special class of armed enforcers to serve the requirements of politicians and that they then turned those enforcers loose to brutalize anybody they wish without personal consequences to either the officers themselves or their direct political bosses.
That they then armed their enforcers with surplus military weapons, entitled attitudes, and a belief that the rest of us are their enemies is secondary. That these enforcers are increasingly encouraged to see all firearms and all people carrying them as a special kind of enemy, to be slaughtered on sight without any evaluation or judgment of the situation — or any mercy — is a terrible, terrible, ominous and dangerous thing. But even that is secondary to the real problem: that police serve government, not citizens, and that citizens have no way to hold brutes personally responsible for their brutality.
Bottom line: By definition, more government equals more force. And less individual accountability.
Unfortunately, the current sudden outcry against police tyranny won’t change anything. Cosmetic reforms will be passed. They will accomplish little. A few individual officers might actually face a few consequences, perhaps in highly publicized federal civil rights cases. (That happened in the Rodney King case and have you seen any improvement in policing or police officers since then?)
Nothing substantial will change because the culture of immunity and impunity that rules both politics and policing will remain intact.
In fact, for gun owners, things will get worse. Police hatred and fear of guns (that is, your guns, my guns; of course not their own guns) will increase because politicians are encouraging it and the politicians are the masters. Always have been and always will be.
Non-minorities who live in fairly civilized places will continue to luck out. For a while. As official hoplophobia builds, even that bit of luck will run out.
“It stops here” is a brave declaration. In Garner’s case, it was a foolish declaration because he had no means of upholding it against the force of both trained thugs and the government that sent them.
But if those responsible for both being brutes and sending brutes among us aren’t held firmly and consistently to account for their deeds, someday citizens as weary and fed up as Eric Garner (but more organized, more powerful, and more ready) will say, “It stops here” and make that stick.