What You Should Know: Eric Garner

nypdHere we go again.

Fresh off the heels of the Ferguson non-indictment, a Staten Island grand jury also chose not to indict a New York City police officer for the death of an unarmed black man yesterday.

But unlike the death of Michael Brown, there is no evidence of self-defense in the officer’s case, and there are no conflicting witness testimonies. The death of Eric Garner by choke hold was caught on tape, and the grand jury chose not to indict the police officer anyway. More from The New York Times:

The fatal encounter in July was captured on videos and seen around the world. But after viewing the footage and hearing from witnesses, including the officer who used the chokehold, the jurors deliberated for less than a day before deciding that there was not enough evidence to go forward with charges against the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, 29, in the death of the man, Eric Garner, 43.

Officer Pantaleo, who has been on the force for eight years, appeared before the grand jury on Nov. 21, testifying that he did not intend to choke Mr. Garner, who was being arrested for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. He described the maneuver as a takedown move, adding that he never thought Mr. Garner was in mortal danger.

The decision came barely a week after a grand jury found no criminality in the actions of another white police officer, Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man in Ferguson, Mo.

After the news from Staten Island, a wave of elected officials renewed calls for Justice Department intervention, saying the grand jury’s finding proved that justice could be found only in the federal courts. By the evening, the department announced it would open a civil rights inquiry.

On the streets of the city, from Tompkinsville to Times Square, many expressed their outrage with some of the last words Mr. Garner uttered before being wrestled to the ground: “This stops today,” people chanted. “I can’t breathe,” others shouted.

If it wasn’t clear after the Ferguson situation, it certainly should be now: America is not a post-racial society, and it has a long way to go before it gets there.

This grand jury was probably never going to indict the police officer.

More from FiveThirtyEight:

Staten Island residents are particularly sympathetic to the NYPD compared to New York’s other boroughs, and a majority of residents there think the officer should not have been charged.

In an average of Quinnipiac University polls taken in August and November, only 41 percent of Staten Island residents supported bringing charges against Officer Daniel Pantaleo (the margin of error on these combined subsamples is 7 percentage points). In New York overall, 64 percent approved of criminal charges. Staten Island isn’t like the rest of the city.

Half of Staten Islanders thought it was “understandable that the police could have acted” the way they did in the Garner case, compared to 43 percent who said there was “no excuse.” Again, that’s far lower than in the rest of the city, where 66 percent of residents indicated to pollsters that there was “no excuse.”

And while much of the debate about Garner’s death and the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, has centered on race — both Garner and Brown were unarmed and black — polls show Staten Islanders think police treat both races equally. Almost 60 percent of Staten Islanders, on average, said police treat both races the same, according to Quinnipiac’s surveys. Only 31 percent of all New Yorkers felt the same way. (Staten Island’s adult citizen population — the group from which the grand jury was drawn — is almost 70 percent non-Hispanic white; New York overall is majority non-white).

More than 75 percent of Staten Islanders approve of the job the police do, compared to just 52 percent of all New Yorkers.

Obama’s police body camera proposal suddenly looks less effective.

Garner’s death was captured in its entirety on camera, and it still wasn’t enough to indict the police officer on any charges, despite a medical examiner ruling the death a homicide and the video.

President Barack Obama, who again called racial conflict with police a nationwide problem following Garner’s death, proposed equipping officers’ vests with cameras to record any interactions with citizens. That doesn’t look too effective all of a sudden. More from The Washington Post:

President Obama announced this week that, in response to Ferguson and other cases of cops killing unarmed black men, the White House would call for $75 million to make 50,000 body cameras available to police departments across the country.

But on Wednesday, a grand jury declined to indict New York police officers in the choking death of Eric Garner — a case in which there was footage. And the timing couldn’t really be worse for the White House.

One activist who attended a White House meeting with Obama on Monday and talked with NBC News suggested that cameras weren’t exactly a cure-all:

Antoine White, a hip-hop artist from St. Louis who is known as T-Dubb-O, said of body cameras during an interview, “I still consider it a Band-Aid” on a much larger problem. “Giving a policeman a camera does not prevent him from shooting me in the head,” he said, noting officers at times don’t turn on the cameras.


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