Friday, December 05, 2014

Another Failure of the Legal System


Here we go again. The grand jury just recently came down with a decision---rightfully so in my opinion---not to pursue charges against Officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown. In that case, Officer Wilson's testimony, as well as all available evidence supported the claim that Brown was physically assaulting and that Wilson was in imminent danger and therefore, justified in his use of deadly force. Now comes along the case involving the death of Eric Garner. While again, the grand jury declined to indict, the circumstances couldn't be more different.

In the Brown/Wilson case, Brown, according to store video, had just robbed a convenient store, making full use of his 6' 4" and 292 pound size, of a $48.00 box of cigarillos. Later, after being asked to get out of the middle of the street by Officer Darren Wilson, Brown apparently came incensed, and quickly their verbal exchange became physical as Brown first hit Wilson, who was still seated in his patrol car, in the face and then made several attempts to grab Wilson's service weapon. Brown was apparently fought off and then charged Wilson, who fired several shots to slow or stop Brown before he was fatally killed. However, in the Eric Garner case, we have something quite different.

Yes, Garner was also a big man. Quite large in fact; about 6'3" tall and weighing some 350 pounds, though with some health problems that included asthma and a heart condition. Second there were four officers present at the scene, including at least two who had some size too. Third, Garner was standing on the street corner, allegedly selling untaxed "gypsy" cigarettes---apparently a big deal in New York. Garner had a criminal record going back to the 1980's with some 30 arrests, including marijuana charges, resisting arrest, grand larceny, and selling those untaxed "gypsy" cigarettes. From video shot at the scene, Garner can be seen being polite and respectful to the officers as he repeatedly denies committing any crime. I have yet to see any video where the officers were able to substantiate their suspicions. Nevertheless, the officers decided to arrest Garner; perhaps as a form of intimidation in order to force Garner to admit that he was committing some crime. After Garner refused to allow the officers to arrest him things got ugly. Garner can be seen resisting the officers non-physically while at the same time, one officer, Daniel Pantaleo came up from behind and clearly put Garner in a chokehold, which is a violation of New York Police Department policy.

After being subdued, Officer Pantaleo continued to maintain pressure on Garner's chest, and head while Garner states quite distinctly 11 times that he was unable to breathe. It was only when Garner finally stopped moving that police appeared to take him seriously. After a delay, the officers started CPR while they waited on an ambulance, but by then it was all but too little too late. While the video and testimony of the bystanders mostly agreed, none of officers, including Pantaleo, who choked Garner, were indicted by the Staten Island Grand Jury; this also in despite that the coroner's office ruled Garner's death as a "homicide" resulting from the chokehold and compression of the chest due to the officer's knee. Everyone, from the mayor and police commissioner on down were (rightfully so) expecting an indictment to be handed down. The grand jury, we're now told, was hamstrung because they were limited in the charges to choose from. However, one individual was indicted, the guy who filmed the incident, Ramsey Orta. Orta stated that he recorded a similar violent police arrest on the same corner just a week earlier. The police claimed after the incident that Orta had a 25 caliber pistol, which he had slipped in the waistband of a 17 year old accomplice; charges which Orta denied and maintains is nothing more than retaliation by the police. So, now we're back to more protests, and not just in New York. They're spreading throughout the US and we can only hope they too don't turn violent.

What happened here? Obviously something went very wrong. Another failure in the judicial system? Apparently. Are the police above the law? I don't know. I do know of several incidents where the police were clearly at fault yet never charged. So perhaps there's some sort of built in immunity when it comes to equal treatment. Is there a subtle racism being practiced in among America's "Blue Knights"? While I'm tempted to say no, we learn of yet another death. This one involving a 12 year old black boy out playing in a neighborhood park in Cleveland, Ohio with a very real looking toy BB gun.

The 12 year old, Tamir Rice, was at the park, walking around with the gun--pulling it in and out of his pants and aiming it at people as they walked or drove by. Several individuals reported the child's behavior and all of them said that the gun appeared to be a toy with the orange plastic tip removed. Nevertheless, when dispatched notified Officers Tim Loehmann and Frank Garmback, they failed to mentioned that that those seeing the child thought the gun was a toy. However, in just under two seconds of the police arriving, the boy was dead on the ground; shot by Loehmann, a rookie on the force. As it turns out, Loehmann had worked for another police department in Independence, Ohio but was let go. The reason reportedly had to do with his psychological makeup and his inability to handle a weapon. If true, then clearly this man did not need to be a police officer. Moreover, someone should have done a more detailed background check before hiring him. But perhaps that's neither here or there. The fact is, he killed a child who had a toy gun; all within two seconds of arriving on the scene and no efforts to resist or run on the part of Rice. No doubt, there will be many protests over this too.

The first point I want to make here is each of these cases, while involving a black individual and a white police officer, are totally different in terms of circumstances. Wilson was attacked by Brown and reacted to protect himself. Garner could have and should have been dealt with differently, especially since there were four police officers on the scene surrounding Garner, who was not acting belligerently. And while the chokehold should not have been employed, it most certainly should not after Garner's repeated pleas that he couldn't breathe. Lastly, there are much safer ways to deal with a child who allegedly had a "gun". Dispatch should have alerted the officers that the gun was being reported as a possible toy. The officers too should have expected the kid to be absolutely terrified to have two officers roll up on him; only about eight to ten feet separated them. Both officers could have remained in their car and simply talked to the boy and found out what they needed to know. If it was real, they would have had the protection of the vehicle. Instead, they bolted out of their car with guns drawn and cocked.

Police officers and first responders are always under a lot of pressure. They never know what they're walking up on, and they usually aren't catching people at their best. Each situation is different, and should be treated as such. Had Wilson gotten out of his car when he questioned Brown, the situation might have turned out much differently given Brown's imposing physical size. The officers could had sat Garner down on the ground to question him (and after obtaining voluntary permission to search him which they didn't do). If he refused, it would have been much easier to handcuff him while he was seated on the sidewalk. Talking to the kid and explaining how people were nervous about seeing the gun while in their car, could have defused the situation.

The problem, as I see it, is the increasing sense of a "us vs. them" mentality among the police, who are increasingly acting like occupying troops, and why not? They are equipped with military equipment and hardware. They have massive armored vehicles, military grade weapons, bullets, and body armor. Their mentality is increasingly geared to see everyone as a potential criminal---the enemy. So, if they dress the part; if they are equipped the part; if they are encouraged to think the part; how long before they start acting the part? America is already well on its way to becoming a police state. We don't even question the countless levels of surveillance and security measures we're forced to endure every day---all for our own good we're reminded by the government's spy agencies and the corporate media. Whatever happened to the friendly officer who knew most---at least the faces---of everyone on his beat? Where's the guy who was always seen more a friend of the neighborhood or the one kids could always turn to if something happened? I guess that's just one more thing we've lost with many of our other freedoms.


Grand Jury in Eric Garner Case Wasn't Asked to Consider 'Reckless Endangerment' Charge
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/05/eric-garner-reckless-endangerment_n_6275698.html

Man Who Filmed Fatal Police Chokehold Is Arrested On Weapons Charges
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/04/nyregion/after-recording-eric-garner-chokehold-ramsey-orta-gets-charged-with-gun-possession.html?_r=0

Despite his testimony, grand jury indicted Ramsey Orta, the chokehold filmer...
http://www.silive.com/northshore/index.ssf/2014/08/despite_his_testimony_grand_ju.html

Video shows Cleveland officer shooting 12 year old Tamir Rice within seconds
http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2014/11/26/officials-release-video-names-in-fatal-police-shooting-of-12-year-old-cleveland-boy/

Cop Who Shot 12 Year Old Described As Emotionally Unstable
http://www.buzzfeed.com/alisonvingiano/loehmann-independence-records

1 comment:

Barbara said...

Liked the article, said what most people think.