Despite the fact that the strangulation of unarmed 43-year-old Eric Garner by police officer Daniel Pantaleo was clearly recorded, so that Garner’s cries of “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” are audible to everyone, and despite the fact that a city medical examiner determined unequivocally that the chokehold was the cause of Garner’s death, a grand jury in Staten Island today decided not to indict Pantaleo for the murder of Eric Garner.
Via NY1, we are learning that sources are confirming that the grand jury has failed to indict Pantaleo for his actions. This decision, coming so closely on the heels of a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the death of unarmed teenager Mike Brown and the subsequent protests, feels all the more shocking because Garner’s struggle and death—as well as his pleas for his life—were caught on camera, making the whole debate over whether or not police officers should wear body cameras something of a moot point. The truth, it seems, is simple: Police not only are the law, but they are also above it. Nothing will change that.
The decision in the Mike Brown case has led to days of protesting—including many protests here in New York—and the NYPD has prepared for more protests to continue in the face of this decision. The New York Times reports, “For days, the New York City Police Department has been readying for a new round of protests, which began in the city after the Ferguson decision and which were expected to continue and possibly grow if the grand jury declined to bring charges against the officer.”
Of note in Garner’s killing as opposed to that of Brown is that, while police officers are allowed to use their guns in cases when they feel in mortal danger (which is what Wilson professes he felt like he was in), chokeholds like the one Pantaleo used on Garner—who literally NO ONE debates was doing anything other than protesting being harassed for selling loose cigarettes—are banned from use by the NYPD. So even if Garner had not died, what Pantaleo was doing was still prohibited. And yet he is not even going to have to stand trial for his actions, actions that resulted in the death of a grandfather whose only crime was selling loosies.
So for all of you out there who felt like things were different in New York, better and more enlightened than in Missouri, let this grand jury decision serve to remind you to stay angry and stay alert. This isn’t an example of our legal system going astray. This is an example of it working exactly how it was designed to work, to protect people like Daniel Pantaleo and Darren Wilson, because it’s the police who defend the status quo. But the cost of this system is paid for in the lives of people like Garner and Brown and Tamir Rice and Akai Gurley and countless others. This system is broken.
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen