The International Writers Magazine: Reality Check USA
I CAN’T BREATHE!
Daniel Pantaleo killed Eric Garner. He choked him to death while four other men held him down and pulled his hands behind his back and proceeded to cuff him, leaning all of his weight on the man’s head as he pleaded, “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!”
This is not a crime.
I don’t care if Pantaleo is a police officer. I don’t care that he is white and Eric Garner black. I don’t care if Garner was selling cigarettes illegally, which shouldn’t even be a crime in itself, but that is for another column. I don’t care that Garner had a record or if Pantaleo was an upstanding citizen. I don’t care if the NYPD banned choke-holds in 1993 or that the victim had asthma or was obese. I don’t care that the racial makeup of Staten Island is predominantly white or that prosecutors, who normally slam-dunk grand jury indictments, tend to not want to push hard to go to trial against a police force it needs to stand with 99.9 percent of the time. I certainly don’t care that the city’s smallest borough just re-elected a man to congress with 20 federal indictments against him or that while campaigning he threatened (on television) to throw a reporter off a “fucking balcony” in the nation’s capital. And I don’t care about what happened in Ferguson, Missouri or any of the dozens of places around this nation where both black, white or “other” get gunned down by police officers, deserved or not. I don’t care about whether this is racism or not. I don’t care about protests or riots or op-ed pieces in the Wall Street Journal, The NY Times or what stupid shit Bill O’Reilly or Chris Matthews are spewing nightly. I don’t care about semantics (neck compression or chokehold) or nuance (manslaughter, first-second-third degree).
Here is what I do care about, and what any American or any human being should care about; a man killed another man and is not standing trial for it.
This is the fact: Daniel Pantaleo killed Eric Garner, violently, pitiless. And how do I know this? It is all clearly visible on a 14-minute video. Not a shaky two-minute thing that misses the origin of the event. And not something copyright-owned by Life magazine like the Zapruda film of JFK’s head exploding in the back of a limo, doled out incrementally to tease our gruesome curiosity or fuel conspiracy. It is available in about a 100 forms all over the Internet and it shows the whole shebang go down; and unless you are comfortable in a fascist state or are into snuff films, it is goddamn horrific. But make no mistake about it, it is murder and murder is a crime, and if it is not, as a grand jury decided this week, I am not sure I even understand the concept of crime or murder anymore.
Although there should be far more responsibility placed on the police officer (an armed civic defender paid for by citizens) in shooting an unarmed man, I still am not sure what the hell happened in Ferguson, Missouri in August, and neither are you, as neither is Sean Hannity, who supports any police action or Al Sharpton, who cannot help but thrust his face into everything that appears beneficial for his own publicly. Yet, I have my doubts about what happened there. Did Michael Brown attack Darren Wilson and then “charge at him” or was he standing with his hands up and gunned down in cold blood?
But I have definitely seen the complete video of Daniel Pantaleo killing Eric Garner, along with four other officers either working as accomplices or certainly doing nothing to abate their colleague’s overzealousness, which led to what the New York City coroner eventually deemed a homicide.
Video evidence that this is a crime.
Scientific evidence that this is a crime.
How is this then not a crime?
The Rodney King video is still hard to watch. The first time I saw it I was enraged like every clear-thinking human not already bigoted on either side of the race spectrum. Then I find out the guy was hammered and driving like a maniac and being chased for miles by cop cars and a police helicopter, before wrestling with five guys before they lost their nut and began to beat him senseless. When we first saw the brutal video no one knew how we got to the beat-down, whether you think it justified or criminally insane; a Los Angeles grand jury eventually found it to be the former, while a federal investigation settled on the latter.
This video is different. Not only do we see the entire event unfold, but Eric Garner, totally sober and more-or-less minding his own business, is telling the officers to stop harassing him, and even backing away while doing it. He literally puts up his hands, something we are still not sure Michael Brown did. He is spending the entire time pleading and arguing for them to leave him alone. This prompts the officers to descend on him like something out of a black-and-white Gestapo film and take him down like an animal and murder him.
Speaking of which, there has been a preponderance of references to Nazis and tyranny in our recent political discourse, on both sides of the ideological aisle, but who can argue that the state bearing down on a man this way does not reek of militarism or fascism in the most acute way? How is that not tyranny? How do we protect ourselves from those we expect to protect us? And when they act like maniacs, and murder us, how do we reason the state does not see it as a crime?
And, by the way, this space has supported the police in many matters over the years when it was easy for vogue protesters and knee-jerk reactionaries to dogpile. At the beginning of my second year of this column, my diatribe over the inconceivable defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal, and a subsequent “benefit concert” here in New Jersey, for the murder of a police officer named Daniel Faulkner landed me in a four-month battle with the members of Rage Against the Machine – well documented in the pages of Aquarian Weekly.
This is not about a sweeping allegation against the police, especially the NYPD, with whom I have had great respect and admiration over the years. Believe me, growing up in NYC and having spent the better part of my private and professional career there, I openly, and have done so in print, supported Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s cleaning up of what was quite obviously to anyone who spent any time here during the ‘70s and ‘80s a cesspool of crime and degradation. I thank the NYPD every day I take my child into Washington Square Park to play, something that would have been akin to child abuse three decades ago.
But this incident is a crime and it is murder; not cold-blooded, but murder nonetheless. I expect that Officer Pantaleo was angered and frightened and quite blatantly acted way over-the top. I don’t think he meant to kill Garner, but kill him he did. Hell, I’m a man. I get it. I get really, really pissed and lose my shit when stuff goes down – or at least I used to, but I am old and I am small and hardly ever got the best of it, so that has kind of faded. But, believe me; I get the “snapped” thing.
Officer Pantaleo is probably not evil, he might be, but I am not going there. And Eric Garner was no squeaky-clean innocent. But he is dead and would not be if not for Daniel Pantaleo.
In any measure of understanding, this is murder and murder is a crime.
So I ask you, then how is it not?
© James Campion December 5th 2014 - All rights reserved.
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James Campion is the Managing Editor of The Reality Check News & Information Desk and the author of “Deep Tank Jersey”, “Fear No Art”, “Trailing Jesus”, "Midnight For Cinderella" and “Y”.
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Mike Nichols 1931–2014