New York, N.Y.–There are certain facts in the case of the police murder of Eric Garner which are not in question. The use of the chokehold by the New York Police Department (NYPD) has been illegal for over 20 years, since the death of Anthony Baez, and all police officers are taught that it is illegal. Eric Garner was a 43-year-old father of six children, one of whom is in college. Although a physically big man, he had asthma, and the people that lived in his neighborhood told the press that he could barely walk down a block without stopping to catch his breath. He was no danger to the seven police officers who subdued him.
All the videos taken of the arrest clearly show Garner standing in front of a window, by himself, telling the cops that he had done nothing and asking to be left alone. Their response? One of the cops jumps Garner from behind and, when he hits the sidewalk, puts him into a chokehold while a swarm of other cops jump all over him. The video shows him yelling that he could not breathe until he goes limp and falls unconscious. Before losing consciousness, he is heard to yell repeatedly, “I can’t breathe!”
Garner suffered for years from asthma, diabetes and sleep apnea, sometimes wheezing when he walked, friends and relatives said. He walked slowly on sore feet, sometimes untying his shoes to relieve the pressure, said a friend. One of the videos supports Garner’s contention that he was not selling loose cigarettes (loosies) but trying to break up a fight.
Another video shows Garner lying on his side on the ground, cuffed, completely motionless, apparently not breathing, while a contingent of New York cops does little but stand around. This video, which lasts seven minutes, shows Garner with his head against the sidewalk, with one officer saying “Let’s go, man. Breathe and exhale.” The video shows the undercover cop that applied the chokehold holding his hand up in the air, like he is giving a high-five. But, as the video shows, Garner was already unconscious with his eyes closed. Even when one of the cops put the palm of his hand on his chest Garner continued to be motionless and never opened his eyes.
The official story is that Garner died an hour later from a heart attack that was caused by the incident, but at the scene there was no attempt made to apply CPR or to resuscitate him. They acted as if he was already dead. The only thing that was lacking was the white sheet over the body. They just lifted him on the gurney and took off for the hospital. The official cause of death has not been announced, although four Emergency Medical Services personnel from a local hospital have been suspended for allegedly not providing medical help to Garner when they arrived on the scene.
So what is really going on? Was Eric Garner such a known violent criminal that it took seven cops to subdue him and kill him? Far from it. His only offense in the eyes of the police was that he was selling loosies to people who couldn’t afford a pack. When Bill De Blasio’s new Police Commissioner William Bratton took office, he declared that he was going to focus on “quality of life” issues. This is a euphemism for hassling poor people who are trying to do what they have to do in order to survive. Are the Mexicans playing music on the subway? Lock them up. Are people selling loosies? Lock them up. Are people smoking some weed in the projects? Lock them up. Are people drinking something in a brown paper bag? Lock them up. Are kids riding bicycles on the sidewalk? Give them a deferred jail sentence the first time and lock them up the second. Are there young white street kids and their dogs hanging out on the Lower East Side? Move them on or bust them for panhandling. Bust people on the subway for performing in exchange for donations from their spectators. Bust people for “illegal gambling” on the sidewalks (if you want to gamble, give your money to the New York State lottery). Bratton’s (and de Blasio’s) “quality of life” mantra is designed to make New York more comfortable for the upper class, the yuppies, etc., who don’t like to have all these poor people hanging out on street corners talking and carrying on. “They” don’t want that in their neighborhoods. The quality of life mantra is a part of the gentrification of working-class and poor New York. And now it has its first victim: Eric Garner.
— Michael Gilbert
July 28, 2014