Some Thoughts on Ferguson and Eric Garner
Posted by Alan Edwards
My blog is usually about ephemeral bullshit and inchoate rage about ephemeral bullshit. This post is not like those posts. Ya been warned.
I almost didn’t write this one.
The issues that I’m going to talk about are so politicized, so polarizing, and so inflammatory that I know I can’t even state my thoughts without angering someone, or a lot of someones, or even large swathes of entire political parties. Like yesterday’s post about feminism/gender equality, these issues are emotional and almost immediately cause disagreement. So it would be easier for me to say nothing, except to the people I’m close to who mostly agree with me.
Except I think that’s the coward’s way out. So here we go.
I was originally going to write a post mostly about Ferguson and the reaction to it, especially after Darren Wilson was not indicted for the shooting of Mike Brown. I was going to talk about the escalating problems specifically with the interactions of police with minority, especially brown and black, communities, including policies like stop and frisk, Eric Garner, the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice for having a BB gun, the gunning down of John Crawford III in a Wal-Mart as he carried another BB gun, and other cases and incidents going back. I was going to say that we needed to take a good hard look at why our police forces are using deadly force so often against unarmed citizens they are ostensibly here to serve and protect.
I was going to talk about how disturbed I am about the increasing militarization of our police force, where small towns have armored vehicles to protect their pumpkin festivals and protestors are met with lines of officers who appear no different from the soldiers we have in the field of war except for being in all-black and lacking the same training the soldiers they imitate actually possess. I was going to wonder why our police need to gird themselves to face citizens of our country in a manner no different than they would for an invading army.
I was planning on talking about the need for police to be equipped with body cameras at all times, so their interactions in these situations can be seen, rather than relying on he-said she-said testimony from the survivors. I was going to argue that this is for the protection of both the citizens AND the police, who could actually prove they were under threat before the incidents occurred. The video would allow us to actually see who was responsible and who was at fault and judge the actions accordingly.
I was going to discuss the problem with our legal system when it comes to cases involving the police. District attorneys who are prosecuting these cases are going against the very people they rely on in every other case to gather the evidence necessary for them to do their jobs. The idea that there is no conflict of interest, no pressure from police forces, and no benefit to an individual prosecutor for making sure these cases do not go to trial, or if they do, do not result in a conviction, is a ludicrous one that ignores reality.
Then, yesterday, I read about how, as in the Mike Brown shooting, there would be no indictment for Daniel Pantaleo in the homicide of Eric Garner. The case would not be tried. In fact, there is no case at all.
What. The. Fuck.
See, with the Michael Brown incident I was disappointed but not surprised that there was no indictment. It was a classic instance where there was no reliable way to prove what happened one way or the other, no video, no way to prove anything. I disagreed with the decision, but I also was not on the grand jury, did not see the evidence, and can’t make an intelligent judgment about what happened without that information. I think it was wrong, and that the proof of Darren Wilson’s innocence should have been subjected to a trial, but that’s not what happened. Disappointing, but not surprising. I had discussions with friends about how I felt a body camera would have made a difference in this case. I felt very strongly about that fact, for the reasons I’ve previously stated.
Eric Garner was killed, on video, by a police officer using a chokehold that was banned by the NYPD, ostensibly for the crime of selling untaxed loose cigarettes. There was no indictment, despite the fact that Eric Garner’s death was ruled a homicide, that the tactics used by the officer are illegal, that at no time did Garner make a threatening move towards the officer. It’s not that Daniel Pantaleo was found innocent of any wrong-doing; it was found that nothing wrong occurred at all. Eric Garner is dead, murdered, and we can see it all with our own eyes, and according to a grand jury, NOTHING IS WRONG WITH IT.
That is fucked up.
Someone close to me, the smartest person I know, made this observation: gun-rights activists proclaim that they need their guns to protect against possible tyranny from their own government. Police forces – the branch set up by government to enforce its will – across this country are killing unarmed citizens. None of these gun-right groups care. Conservatives, who distrust the government and want it smaller and to stop interfering with our lives, are firmly on the side of the government agents who are killing its citizens. There is a reason for it, I’m sure, but I don’t know what it is. I’m not going to say it’s racism, or socio-economic prejudice, or the belief that every criminal or potential criminal deserves the death penalty. I honestly don’t know.
And it’s very important for me to state this as well: I do not think police officers are bad people. One of my closest friends is an officer, and I respect him and feel happy that someone like him is protecting the rest of us. To say all cops are bad is as insane as claiming all accountants are embezzlers, all nurses are serial killers, all doctors are negligent, or any other kind of sweeping generalization. It’s simply not true. There are many great, outstanding cops. There are, however, some really bad ones. I don’t know how many. But I do know that there is also something beyond just a few “bad cops” out there, that there is some kind of systemic issue at work, because these incidents are too common for it to be just the work of a few bad apples.
I see a lot of coverage about the riots after the Ferguson non-indictment, the chiding and tsk-tsking and underlying feeling of these people deserve it from a lot of the coverage. People who are powerless and oppressed by the state will riot. This is a fact. This has been true since ancient Egypt, in Rome, in every civilized society man has created. When anger and frustration boil over and it is clear that there will be no support or justice, people will riot. A burned Little Caesars or a pile of potato chip bags scattered on a convenience store floor do not move me to anger or feelings of injustice done. Not when people are being killed by those who are supposed to protect and serve them, and get no justice when it occurs.
I don’t have any answers. The Garner non-indictment leaves me feeling tired, and racial prejudice isn’t something I have to deal with every day, or any day. I’m just a citizen of a country that I’m lucky to live in, looking at our society and wondering if it is going to get better, or can get better, for all of its citizens. If there can be a thing, an ideal, called justice that actually can come out of our judicial system. I don’t know if it can, but I still have hope that one day it might.
You may castigate me for my thoughts in the comment section below. Hell, based on the reaction I get to hating on a TV show, I expect to get drawn and quartered. That’s all right. Have fun.