Some Thoughts on Ferguson and Eric Garner

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.

About Alan Edwards

An indie writer who does accounting full-time on the side.

Posted on December 4, 2014, in Philosophizin' and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I had much the same reaction to the acquittal in New York. Since when does “I didn’t mean to (a) get overzealous (b) become enraged (c) not be adequately trained (d) actually kill him … choose all that apply” become a defense to avoid all prosecution? If ones actions are the direct cause of another persons injury or death, at the least, it is considered manslaughter…not “shit happens when you’re a cop…so be it”.

  2. Going to sound like a borked record here, but I agree again. The only thing I’m iffy about is getting as much hate for this as for hating on a TV show… people love their TV shows (but TWD, really? lol).

    I haven’t see the Eric Garner video yet (I’ll watch it later, don’t feel like hating the world right now), but I have seen the Tamir Rice video… disgusting and inexcusable. I can’t believe (mostly white) people can see things like this and condemn the “black” community for rioting, as if these “isolated cases” aren’t tiny pebbles thrown into a bucket overflowing with thousands of other tiny pebbles.

    The problems are clearly systemic – more than just seeing this as a ‘black vs. white’ case, as some of the morons I’ve seen posting on Facebook seem to think – it’s a nationwide problem for all citizens as a whole; those of darker color are just getting the brunt of the injustice: discriminated against and underrepresented in authority, the justice system, and politics.

    Even with all the racist hate spat all over social media – these are excusable because the internet invites the loudest idiots who I tell myself are a miniscule percentage of the REAL people so I don’t lose all hope in humanity – I think what p!$$es me off the most are the institutions that are supposed to be held to a higher standard because they are given the benefit of the doubt and are considered hard-working and trustworthy: “journalism”, prosecutors, and the police.

    “Journalism” – in quotes to signify that this isn’t the real journalism, but the kind that takes liberties with Free Speech by not providing all the facts, misquoting experts, and sometimes outright fabricating evidence. When Wilson fires 12 shots and 6 hit, an examination of Brown’s body would confirm that he wasn’t shot at as he was running away, just as a close-range bullet wound on the hand would solidify that he was grabbing at the gun to take and kill Darren Wilson with… and readers eat that sh*t up. Riiight.

    Prosecutors – (Wilson’s prosecution, specifically) think they’re so clever acting like they present ALL the evidence to a grand jury as an act of fair play as they do no cross-examinations and mislead the grand jury on what they’re really supposed to do: find out the truth about what happened, look for more “facts” outside what’s presented in the court room, and disregard eye-witness testimonies that are inconsistent except those that support Wilson’s account… all to prove a negative, which is nearly impossible. Nearly everything about this indictment process was unconventional and wrong.

    Police – from the equipment, to training, to the “use” of that training, to the disciplinary actions, to the Police Union… seriously, WTF? The philosophy seems to be to escalate situations until they have at least a defensible reason to shoot first and ask questions later, knowing they won’t have to ask questions later with a prosecutor on their side. And if they do managed to “lose” their job, they can get it back often times without loss of rank and sometimes with back-pay through a behind-closed doors appeals process with the help of the Police Union, no matter how egregious the “citizen” crime they’ve committed is.

    And they can get away with this because it is legal; all they have to do is claim that they BELIEVED that their life, or another person’s life was in danger at the time, not if there actually was, and there is no repercussions on getting it wrong. So, why not guarantee your safety and shoot first? If I were a cop and seen the worst in people almost daily and got jumpy and was poorly trained, I might shoot first, too, because, why not?

    I know the law is in place to protect the lives of police officers so that they are not too scared to pull the trigger in actually dangerous situations, but at this point, it’s taken advantage of and innocents are dying because of it. Police officers are human; they’re people too, I get it… but when are they what? You’re a person when you were terrified in a seemingly life-threatening situation, but you were a police officer when you killed a citizen? You can’t have it both ways.

    I get most of my information from vox.com. They have some great articles on these topics.

    I’m going to borrow your disclaimer: this is a rant and is not intended to be blanket statements against all journalism, prosecutors, police, etc. 🙂

  3. Read the following article which has audio forensics of the Brown case. My biggest issue has been the forensics from the autopsy which didn’t match with Wilson’s statements. If someone is charging, and goes down on asphalt, there will be abrasions (and there were none). Anyway it’s well stated in the article, very reasonable. (I’m not hating on anyone either. Eyewitness testimony is flawed because memory is malleable. Cameras for all.)

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/12/01/1348720/-The-audio-recording-of-the-Michael-Brown-shooting-proves-Darren-Wilson-s-story-is-false?detail=email

    There have been protests, and there will be more on an ever-increasing scale, until things shift and people feel safe again. What we need are serious policy changes and some kum-bah-ya focus groups by people on all sides in these areas to reach solutions which meet everyone’s needs. But….that’s just my cray cray talk. And, you can bet I’ll have my camera running the next time I’m interacting with police, because it keeps everyone clear on reality versus memorex.

    • That’s really interesting. I’ve heard the audio before, but never really stopped to analyze it.

      The author’s speculation (“It’s quite possible that he did lie, because he knew that firing at a fleeing suspect was a crime, and he didn’t know that the events would be recorded to show his statement was false.”) does bring to mind something an officer once told my class during a discussion in self-defense: if you’re going to shoot, shoot to kill. Lawyers are wily, and if you shoot and injure someone breaking and entering your home, they can always turn the tables. I’m paraphrasing here, but he said something like, “Dead men can’t defend themselves or tell their side of the story.” The message stands out in my mind because it was so serious to hear so young, in high school at the time! And, to come from a police officer, who at that age are still the infallible, all-good doing heroes. Even though it was intended to be a lesson in protection from injustice, it just felt wrong coming from a cop who you would think would try to get out with the fewest casualties possible… I remember thinking, I’d rather die than live knowing I’ve killed someone. It really makes you wonder…

  4. Your words are spot on, Alan. I was trying to rationalize all of this, looking at these incidents not as racial warfare but class warfare, but that didn’t make me feel any better.

    What might be most disturbing to me is the fact that we continue to hide beneath the thin veneer of civility, behind the mask of “the people in charge are good people”, without being willing or even capable of admitting that police officers are *human*, and humans make mistakes. In their line of work, those mistakes are fucking huge. A lot worse than me forgetting to issue a $60 credit to a customer or not balancing A/R Receipts. But I digress.

    What pisses me off is the tendency by law enforcement and government agencies to deny the existence of a problem. Just because class inequality and racial tensions aren’t something you can bullet-point and come up with a 12-step process to resolve doesn’t mean they’re issues that don’t need to be addressed.

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