Thousands of people marched in Staten Island yesterday to protest the police-caused death of Eric Garner on July 17, as the New York Daily News reports. What was Garner’s “crime” for which police killed him? It was allegedly “peddling single, untaxed cigarettes near a Staten Island park,” the News reports. The man who filmed his death claims that the police confronted Garner for breaking up a fight. That video does show Garner resisting arrest, but not aggressively so; he merely told the police he was tired of them harassing him for no good reason, then he said “don’t touch me” when they began to invade his personal space. Police officers placed Garner in an extended choke hold, causing him to complain he couldn’t breath, and pushed his body into the ground.
Pause to let the facts of this case sink in. Garner was killed by police for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes. No, the officers in question didn’t mean to kill him; they “merely” executed an extremely dangerous assault on Garner that happened to result in his death. In other words, Garner’s killing was not premeditated murder, but I cannot see how, morally, it was anything short of manslaughter. Morally, you don’t get to kill people indiscriminately or violently assault them for petty reasons, just because you’re wearing a badge. The simple fact is that if anyone other than a police officer had done to Garner what the officers did to him, the assailant already would have been prosecuted for manslaughter—and rightly so. So why do police officers not have to follow the same laws against violating people’s rights the rest of us follow?
Of course, it would help immensely if legislators would stop authorizing police to use potentially deadly force against people who are violating no one’s rights.
“Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan announced this week that a grand jury will begin considering criminal charges next month,” the News reports.