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by Gary Schoichet
A GRAND JURY ON STATEN ISLAND saw no evil, heard no evil, and spoke no evil as it declined to indict a police officer who put 43-year-old Eric Garner in an illegal chokehold that caused his death. Mr. Garner’s crime was selling loose cigarettes.
The video of the arrest, including the choke hold, clearly showed the cause of death, a death ruled a homicide by the medical examiner, had so many redactions when shown to the grand jury that many of them believed that Mr. Garner was attacking the police officer while the officer was behind him killing him.
The officer, Daniel Pantaleo, eight years on the force, has been sued three times, according to USA Today, for “violating the constitutional rights of other blacks he and fellow cops arrested.”
“I’m not a racist,” Officer Pantaleo told Blinding Light News Service (BLNS). “I only harass blacks because they are there. That’s who Staten Island’s criminals are. We leave the Mafia guys alone because when they sell cigarettes it’s by the truckload.”
Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Policemen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), told BLNS that police “been shooting people for years. We have history on our side. Nothing ever happens to our members. We’re Teflon©.
“In this incident,” Mr. Lynch added, not only did Officer Pantaleo put Mr. Garner in a chokehold, but three other officers sat on his back compressing his chest so that whatever the choke hold didn’t accomplish the compression did. I mean, we are so immune that the guys who sat on his chest and helped kill him weren’t even named.
“We also prevented the EMTs from helping him even though we knew he couldn’t breathe. They were young and inexperienced and easily intimidated.”
STATEN ISLAND DISTRICT ATTORNEY DANIEL M. DONOVAN JR. TRIED to get an indictment of Pantaleo. “First,” he explained to BLNS, “I gave all the other officers involved immunity from prosecution. I expected the truth and I know I got it. Those five officers were afraid for their lives. After all, Mr. Garner was a 350-pound menace.
“That all the onlookers said he was choked to death was of no consequence. The grand jury saw that they were friends, neighbors, and customers for those tax-free cigarettes he was trying to sell. They believed the police. And thirdly, look at the video. There was no chokehold. What was I to do? Make up a murder?”
According to ProPublica, “young black men are 21 times as likely as their white peers to be killed by police.” As Centers for Disease Control data suggests, “Between 1968 and 2011, black people were between two to eight times more likely to die at the hands of law enforcement than whites. Annually, over those 40 years, a black person was on average 4.2 times as likely to get shot and killed by a cop than a white person.” Being black is dangerous to health.
Brumsic Brandon Jr., the creator of the comic strip Luther which was syndicated from 1968-1986, died in November. Luther was a third-grade African-American kid with attitude. In one strip when questioned by a friend why he didn’t run to school so he wouldn’t’ be late, he answered: ”There was a cop standing there. And you know what they do when they see us running.”
Eric Garner wasn’t running.
Gary Schoichet is a prize-winning labor journalist, editor, and photographer. He writes and photographs what he sees. He nevertheless still has a sense of humor.