It’s a scene from an effed-up horror movie that plays out over and over in America, each year with the same tragic ending: a Black man is left lifeless on the concrete following a run-in with police.
This latest victim is Eric Garner, an affable, asthmatic father of six from Staten Island. The cops moved in to arrest him Thursday under suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes but, when they went to handcuff the 6’3, 250-lb grandfather, he resisted. That’s when a member of “New York’s Finest” placed the 43-year-old in an illegal chokehold, ignoring his frantic claims that he could not breathe until he absolutely could not.
So far, the NYPD has removed the offending officer’s badge and gun, the New York City Fire Department has suspended four emergency-service workers who did nothing to save Garner and Mayor de Blasio has postponed the start of his Italian vacation to launch an official investigation into the matter. In other words, things have played out much like they have in the days following the deaths of scores of other unarmed Black men: Trayvon Martin, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell and the list stretches on since way before I was born.
There have been cries of outrage. There have been rallies. There have been op-eds. Marches are being planned. There have been activists calling for justice and vows for lawsuits against a city that always manages to slip off the hook when it comes to this kind of murder.
Though it’s tempting to believe that this time will be no different, there is hope. There’s a new mayor in office with a Black wife and biracial kids who has vowed to bring these heartless acts of discrimination and callousness by the police, and other service personnel, under control. And ,as terrible as Eric Garner’s cold-hearted killing was, it presents an opportunity.
New York City has the opportunity to right decades of unspeakable wrongs by signing off on jail time for officer Daniel Pantaleo, eliminating Stop and Frisk and instituting an overhaul of the department’s so-called sensitivity training program, making it mandatory for the entire police force. These actions will send an unequivocal message to all the big Erics and little Erics out there who are often afraid to leave their homes. The message: that you are worthy of the same respect and careful handling that is afforded to every other human being on Earth.
In his statement to the press following Garner’s death, de Blasio reiterated a promise from his campaign to continue “strengthening the relationship between community and police in New York City in all of our neighborhoods.” Finding justice for Eric Garner and his family would be an excellent start.