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Sunday, December 7, 2014

TK’s last word (hopefully) on the Eric Garner tragedy …


Let’s get the caveats out of the way first: I respect policemen and their jobs. I can understand their concerns and fears, but I do not respect disrespectful police. Not all police are evil and/or disrespectful. Neither are all African-Americans, or any other civilians, evil and/or disrespectful. Police have a tough job. So do construction workers. Police put their lives on the line when their lives are in immediate danger, but wearing a uniform does not equate to perpetual immediate danger. That is a military mentality that holds zero credibility on the streets of New York in 2014. We're talking about Staten Island, not Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, far too many police are killed in the line of duty. It is a horrible reality of life. So also is the horrible reality that many more civilians are killed by criminals and/or relatives than are cops killed by criminals. Most of the time, police are not in any danger at all. Many more police retire without ever having to fire their guns in the line of duty then are killed in the line of duty. And I suspect that many more police retire without having civil rights and/or abuse charges filed against them than those who retire with charges having been filed against them.
I repeat: this is not a condemnation of police. It is a condemnation of police who are abusive and/or corrupt. To assume that all police are incapable of wrongdoing (as NYPD police union president, Patrick Lynch, seems to feel), or that police actions should never be questioned, as so many others seem to feel, is simply absurd, and most likely the reason the police and those victimized by bad policing are at polar ends of the issue.
Likewise, to assume all cops are engaging in police brutality is simply absurd.
To make matters worse, and perhaps this is the bigger issue, a system that allows prosecutors to change the rules of the game when the actions of law enforcement are challenged is a flawed system, and one akin to promoting kangaroo courts. Why aren’t special prosecutors used when police are brought before a grand jury? Why bother holding grand juries at all? Why put on the charade that leaves nothing but mistrust and frustration in its wake?
In another miscarriage of justice which author Gilbert King wrote about, The Execution ofWillie Francis, a 17 year old African-American boy was accused, indicted, and convicted of a murder he didn’t commit, and later sentenced to death twice (the first time the electric chair didn’t perform to its full capacity and Willie Francis was tortured with electricity) with total and absolute disregard of the facts. The disgrace of the injustices perpetrated by the courts in the Willie Francis case (1947) is little different (as regards the result) from the grand jury fiasco put on by Staten Island District Attorney, Daniel Donovan (2014). Both legal proceedings appear to have been kangaroo courts as regards justice.
The Groveland case and the Willie Francis case are historical facts that serve as a backdrop (just two of many, many more) to the soiled interaction between law enforcement and the African-American community. I point to it not as an excuse for bad behavior (i.e., rioting after unfavorable court decisions, etc.), but as something I fear way too many in law enforcement disregard, and for all the wrong reasons. Many on the extreme right like to point out, “That was then, this is now,” suggesting that racism and/or inequality in justice is no longer an issue. That is an incredible presumption, yet it is one recanted over and over again. Aside from being factually wrong, it serves to prejudice a culture that permitted “stop and frisk” laws that were statistically proven to be predominantly applied against minorities.
On Staten Island there was a video showing police going overboard over loose cigarettes. Had Mr. Garner not died, the video taken of his arrest would have been just another of many similar videos showing police brutality, which too often are later justified because the lives of police are on the line every time they leave their homes? Really?
The court injustice in the Willie Francis case and the Garner situation are way too similar for comfort. Total and absolute disregard for the facts, except in the Garner situation, there are at least two videos showing what happened, and the immediate aftermath, including the officer involved in the choking/take down, waving at/or mocking the person filming him. Perhaps the only difference in the two cases is how the level of court injustices have moved further north over time.
Now we have police car cams and the possibility of police wearing individual cameras, something I applauded as recently as a few days ago. Fine, except there are already several instances (never mind the video of Mr. Garner’s arrest) whereby police are caught using excessive force, and/or killing someone unjustly, and there were no repercussions. Google them, there are plenty to choose from.
This is tough to write and post because believe it or not, I have several friends who were on the force and/or have relations on the force, including members of my wife’s family. I know many ex-cops and police currently on the force. I know parents of cops and other relations of cops, and my heart goes out to them in times like these, because they probably feel they too are being persecuted for the actions of a few. My neighbor is a retired cop (and now teaches) and is one of the nicest and hard-working guys I’ve ever known. He’s also African-American and has a white wife he’s been married to forever. I can only hope the police and ex-police I know don’t hold my opinions against our friendships, but if they do, so be it. This life is way too short to muzzle oneself when one feels a need to say something.
We all want a peaceful and helpful co-existence with all branches of government, including the police, but not at the expense of our dignity and/or life. Nobody is defending Mr. Garner’s decision to argue with the police. Neither should anyone put themselves in his shoes and assume he should accept being arrested for the umpteenth time for selling (although apparently there is no proof he was actually selling anything at the time of the confrontation) loose cigarettes. Arguing with the police does NOT equate to resisting arrest. Read the Frank Serpico article from the Daily News linked here. I’m sure some police continue to call Mr. Serpico a rat, thus proving his point, but see how he thinks the same situation should have been handled. 
When I watched the second video showing Mr. Garner lying dead on the sidewalk while several police attempted to keep his death from the crowd (which initially made perfect sense to me as regards crowd control … until, that is, one of the policeman protested being filmed), I also noticed the cop in question, the cop who put the choke hold (or took him down, if it’s more palatable to state it that way) on Mr. Garner. He doesn’t appear to be remorseful at all (as regards the statement issued by him after the non-indictment). Frankly, he appears to be yucking it up (as one friend put it), and when he waves to the person taking the video, that about summed it up for me. Indictment, end of story. Go to 6:48 of the video, where he appears to be joyfully waving …

The police and/or their supporters can’t blame an entire community (plus others outside their community) for wanting accountability. Protests against brutality aren’t an attack on the police (unless you’re feeling guilty). It’s an attack on a justice system that seems to have changed little since the tragedy of Willie Francis.
The following video is easy to watch and one anyone would respect. The officer involved is (and should be) a model policeman. Most of the police I’ve dealt with in my life have been more like the cop in this video than abusive. Listen to the cop toward the end of the video (poignant words): “Help me help you, bro.”

This next video isn’t easy to watch at all. There are clear instances of police brutality in it (including a policeman punching a handcuffed woman in the head). I have no idea if justice was ever meted out in some or any of the cases in the video, except for the Pennsylvania Judge who was getting kickbacks to keep kids in jail for longer periods of time by the prison for profit he was stocking with juveniles. He did get indicted and sentenced. The video ends with Trayvon Martin lying dead on the ground, which has less to do with police, but does reflect the tragedy of a court system (and legislation) that encourages shooting first and asking questions later (i.e., stand your ground laws). And before the rapper in the video is attacked as just another thug, google him and listen to him speak. He’s as articulate as any college professor I’ve ever known.

Defending police brutality because “he’s one of us” is nothing more than an “omerta” among the uniformed.
Remember Abner Louima? Here’s a New York Times article penned 7 years ago. Mr. Louima stated: “I feel we have made some progress in reducing police brutality over the past 10 years, but I also believe there is still a lot to be done,” he wrote in a guest column published in The Daily News on Sunday. “Things may have improved a bit, but not enough. To name just one example, look at Sean Bell, who last year was shot and killed by police while leaving a nightclub in Queens.”
And in August of this year, Eric Garner was accused of selling loose cigarettes and brought down as if he were an NFL lineman showing signs of steroid rage …


—Charlie Stella