Some conservatives have joined progressives in decrying the lack of an indictment for a police officer who killed a 43-year-old Staten Island man with a chokehold. Last July, Daniel Pantaleo joined other police officers in taking down Eric Garner while he was standing on the street. Within minutes Garner was dead, as a video of the tragedy shows. After the grand jury released its decision not to indict Pantaleo, people across the country filled streets in protest.
Conservatives objection, however, comes from their belief that big government is responsible for Garner’s death. Without high cigarette taxes in New York, Garner would not have died, according to Lawrence McQuillan in the Washington Times:
“[E]very vote for higher taxes gives police increased authority to exert more force on citizens in more situations. Higher excise taxes inevitably lead to more violent clashes between police and smugglers…. Eliminating punitive cigarette taxes would shrink the underground market and help redirect police resources to combating real crimes of force and violence, rather than empowering police to employ violence in the name of tax collection.”
Those who question such taxes fail to understand the benefits of a law that gives people a better quality of life through reducing smoking. Libertarians argue that these taxes are an undemocratic intrusion into private lives. Yet McQuillan’s logic requires the elimination of all taxes because they use police resources “to employ violence in the name of tax collection.” He fails to understand that no taxes means no government services—including police.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), potential presidential candidate, followed the same distorted line of reasoning last night when he appeared on Chris Matthews MSNBC program, Hard Ball. After expressing initial dismay about the video of Garner crying out “I can’t breathe” multiple times, Rand concluded:
“I think it’s also important to know that some politician put a tax of $5.85 on a pack of cigarettes. So they’ve driven cigarettes underground by making them so expensive. But then some politician also had to direct the police to say, ‘Hey, we want you arresting people for selling a loose cigarette.’ And for someone to die over breaking that law, there really is no excuse for it. But I do blame the politicians.”
Rand ignored the fact that Garner died because a police officer violated NYPD rules by putting Garner in a chokehold and holding his head against the ground.
It’s not the first time that Rand has exonerated police action by blaming “politicians” and “the war on drugs.” In a Time op-ed piece published after the grand jury failed to indict Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson (MO), Rand wrote:
“Escaping the poverty trap will require all of us to relearn that not only are we our brother’s keeper, we are our own keeper. While a hand-up can be part of the plan, if the plan doesn’t include the self-discovery of education, work, and the self-esteem that comes with work, the cycle of poverty will continue.”
According to Rand, Brown was responsible for his own death because he failed to participate in “self-discovery.” Nowhere did Rand mention that Brown was only one month away from attending a vocational education school after having graduated from high school—those pieces of “education” and “work.”
Rand also got his information wrong. According to his op-ed, “In Ferguson, the precipitating crime was not drugs, but theft.” Much of the information released before the grand jury proved that Wilson didn’t know that Brown had participated in an alleged crime. Brown’s crime was jaywalking.
According to conservatives, the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner had nothing to do with racism: it was only because of the liberals’ insistence on the “nanny state.” Without taxes and handouts, the poor would disappear, and the police would have no need to kill those who they are employed to protect.
Yet conservatives ignore the problem of police across the United States who evidence racial prejudice in their community. Five officers in Montgomery County (OH) are being investigated but are still being paid, three of them remaining on the job, for such text messages as “I hate n*ggers. That is all” and “What do apples and black people have in common? They both hang from trees.”
Brown and Garner aren’t the only black men recently killed by white officers. John Crawford is dead after he shopped in Walmart and picked up a toy gun; Darrien Hunt was killed with multiple shots in his back for carrying a toy sword; and 12-year-old Tamir Rice was killed in Cleveland because he openly carried a toy gun—legal in Ohio.
According to footage, Rice was shot within two seconds of the police officer’s pulling up in his car. The killer, Timothy Loehmann, had been judged unfit for police work two years ago by his then-employer, Independence (OH), that cited his “dismal” handgun performance. An investigation into Cleveland’s police division for the past 18 months revealed that officers “carelessly fire their weapons, placing themselves, subjects, and bystanders at unwarranted risk of serious injury or death.” Two examples were police shooting an unarmed hit-and-run suspect in the neck and firing 24 rounds in a residential neighborhood, hitting 14 parked cars and another six hits of houses. A police chase two years ago used at least 62 vehicles and 137 bullets to kill two unarmed black suspects, each sustaining over 20 gunshot wounds.
Last spring, a police officer, 47-year-old Frank Phillips, was photographed choking a drunken student at an end-of-the-year party at the University of Tennessee. Two other police officers handcuffed the man. Within hours of the photo being published in the UK Daily Mail, Phillips was fired, and the officers handcuffing him were placed on leave. The choked man is white and still alive.
Ethan Couch is still alive after he killed four people and injured two others in a drunken joy ride. He is now safe in an upscale rehab facility and facing another nine years of rehabilitation and probation. Kevin Miner, who kicked an officer and broke his hand when found hiding in a stranger’s basement, was arrested with no one shot or otherwise hurt. Cliven Bundy is considered a hero after he organized an army in Nevada that threatened government officials with high-powered weapons. All these men are white. White people are inconvenienced; black people are killed. Much more information is available at hashtag #CrimingWhileWhite where white people are recording their easy escapes from police action after committing crimes.
Satirist Andy Borowitz has a solution for the grand jury lack of indictment: supply them with eyes. Dorrinson is a mythical senator used in several of Borowitz’s columns. In this one he said:
“Body cameras are an important part of the solution. But I strongly believe that if you take video evidence and add eyes, the combination would be unstoppable.” [In response to the request for working brains:] “Yes, in a perfect world, all grand juries would have brains. But progress is an incremental thing. Let’s start with eyes and eventually work our way up to brains.”
Even former RNC chair Michael Steele understands the problem in the United States when white police officers can kill black people with impunity although evidence shows that the police are in the wrong. He said that “a black man’s life is not worth a ham sandwich” to grand juries and the prosecutors who are hired to fight for an indictment.
Those who are convinced that there was no racial motivation in no indictment in the Garner case should imagine the response from Fox and other far-right sources if the police officer had been black and the victim a wealthy white man.