NYC Police murder Eric Garner

August 29, 2014

From the September-October 2014 issue of News & Letters

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 NY Police Department (NYPD) has been illegal for over 20 years. Eric Garner was a 43-year-old father of six. Although a big man, he had asthma, and the people who live in his neighborhood said that he could barely walk 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 by himself, telling the cops that he had done nothing and asking to be left alone. Their response? One jumps Garner from behind and puts him into a chokehold while a swarm of other cops jump all over him. The video shows him yelling that he cannot breathe until he goes limp and falls unconscious.

Illustration by Dignidad Rebelde,

Illustration by Dignidad Rebelde,

One video supports Garner’s contention that he was not selling loose cigarettes (loosies) but trying to break up a fight. Another 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.

The first official story was that Garner had died of a heart attack in the ambulance. Segments of the New York press were happy to report that the heart attack was probably caused by his obesity and diabetes, letting the cops off the hook.


Now we know the first story is false. The coroner’s office ruled Eric Garner’s death was a homicide, and he was dead before he was put into the ambulance. The medical examiner ruled that Officer Pantaleo’s chokehold caused Garner’s death. His videotaped arrest and final pleas of “I can’t breathe!” sparked outrage in poor and working-class neighborhoods all over the city.

Eric Garner’s only offense in the eyes of the police was that he was selling individual cigarettes 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.

Are the Mexicans playing music on the subway? Lock them up. Are people selling loosies? Lock them up. Smoking weed in the projects? Lock them up. Drinking something from 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. Bust people on the subway for performing in exchange for donations. 

Bratton’s (and de Blasio’s) “quality of life” mantra is designed to make New York more comfortable for the upper class, who don’t like to have all these poor people hanging out on street corners talking and carrying on. The “quality of life” mantra is a part of the gentrification of working-class and poor New York. And now it has another victim: Eric Garner. As we go to press there have still been no indictments of the cops responsible for Garner’s death.


This article was published together with Thousands in Chicago: From NY to Ferguson, stop killer cops!, Kansas City for Michael Brown, We march in Oakland for #NMOS14, and Justice for Ezell Ford.

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