Whatever It May Take: On the Police Murder of Eric Garner [Winter 2014]
March 12, 2015 § Leave a comment
Please, please learn about the police murder of Eric Garner, do not shut your heart to the painful truths of this world. Garner had just broken up an unrelated fight when Officer Pantaleo arrived. The officer attempted to arrest him—or simply assaulted him—by choking him from behind with a chokehold takedown prohibited for decades, following Garner expressing his indignation over his continuous harassment by the police for selling untaxed tobacco. Pantaleo’s probable cause? Simply Garner’s history, and his outrage at his harassment. Garner broke up a fight, and the officer fucking murdered him. You can hear the sense of violation in Garner’s words: “I did not sell nothin’. Because everytime you see me you harass me, you wanna stop me tryna sell cigarettes. I was minding my business, officer. I’m minding my business, please just leave me alone. I told you the last time, please just leave me alone! Don’t touch me.” One officer attacked from in front, and one from behind, with the chokehold takedown.
We see all the familiar patterns. White cop, just doing his job. Person of color, presumed guilty. The police union denies any wrongdoing on the officer’s part, despite clear video. Journalists and encyclopedias mention “the officer who was involved in Garner’s death”. Always passive tense, never the murderer who murdered. The District Attorneys try to lengthen the proceedings or the case until the timing insulates them from repercussion. The media grasps desperately for any narrative that can blame the victim and demonize the dead, citing or fabricating previous convictions, family drama, anything they can. In our instance, Garner supposedly “flailed his arms” as he raised his voice at the officer. Yes, he gestured with indignation, and rightfully so. The media interviews the police commander, who depicts a long history of valiant service on the officer’s part. The media interviews the officer, where he emphasizes either “fearing for his life” or a “tragic mistake”, that he “just followed his training” or “just followed orders”, that he “just wanted to protect the defenseless”. The defense lawyers concoct some Get Out Of Jail Free Card to convince the jurors; in this instance, the officer performed a “headlock”, not a chokehold. A clearly false claim, watch the murder video. The criminal justice system had already intimidated problematic witnesses, such as Ramsey Orta, who took the video, or his wife, both coincidentally facing unrelated charges soon after the incident, prosecuted by the same system they might criticize. That whole territorial monopoly of the State, always so convenient.
So where does it go? All charges dropped. No trial, maybe a civil suit if those in power fear the wrath of the public. The cop gets desk duty, maybe transfers departments, maybe cashes out and retires. Maybe he loses his badge, but never his life or his freedom. Maybe the media even cuts him a six-figure check for an interview, like with killer cop Darren Wilson. No one interviews Eric Garner’s six children, now fatherless. And they cannot interview the dead man. The police and their apologists effectively monopolize the narrative, and as the prosecutors depend mainly on cops for testimony, no one plays hardball when the killer has a badge. Systems working as designed. The Grand Jury effectively grant Officer Pantaleo, a white man, license to perform an extrajudicial execution on an unarmed black man, who had committed no crime, and actually had broken up a fight. The cameras on the cops changed nothing with the courts; certainly now that reform proves a dead end. But the civilian-filmed video may indeed still fuel popular outrage.
Eric Garner’s last words, as Officer Pantaleo pushed Garner’s head into the pavement: “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” Truly horrific. But let us not simplify the account. Garner said, before the officer attacked him, “I was just minding my own business. Every time you see me you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. It stops today!” I see zero evidence that Garner acted as the aggressor here; in fact, he just broke up a fight. But if he did fight back, I believe he would have had every reason to do so. Garner had a history of harassment for bullshit offenses. Sale of untaxed tobacco? Really? Criminalizing subsistence just means murder on a longer timeline.
Had Eric Garner fought back to defend his life, his livelihood, or his dignity, against police aggression, would you support his self-defense? I, for one, support resistance to these racist, killer cops. How many more people of color in coffins, how many more corpses of poor people, til you say “no more”? What will it take to stop these racist police murderers, the institutions protecting them, the systems they enforce? The struggle must escalate, because normality means death. What if the “bystanders” had intervened as Garner lay dying? What if the medics had restrained the cop? How can anyone just passively watch a blatant murder?
In the words of Frederick Douglass, “Find out just what any people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
I will remember Eric Garner, I will remember the slain. I will not forget the killers with badges, that which protects them, that which deploys them, or that which they enforce. I will not merely endure in the face of these intolerable harms, even if my skin tone affords me merely a fraction the risk of a black man. In fact, may that galvanize me to not retreat quietly into comfort and complicity.
Solidarity with those refusing subjugation.
Gather together, and fight back.
POSTSCRIPT, IN RESPONSE TO “SO WHAT CAN WE DO?”
It very much depends on your beliefs and values, what you see the problem as. Some different levels of analysis for different perspectives on where the issues come from:
—Crisis of Individuals: individual police or departments with brutality, corruption, excess, neglect, or prejudice
—Crisis of Institutions: the failure of public accountability from bureaucracies sympathetic to one another, commander’s immunity, militarization programs like the 1033 Program, emphasis on SWAT teams, institutional policies like “Maximum Force”, “Show of Force”, “Escalated Force”, “Negotiated Management”, “Community Policing”, or “Counter-Insurgency”
—Crisis of Paradigms: for-profit policing, policy orientations like the War on Drugs & War on Terror, mass incarceration, the logic of “just obeying orders, just doing my job”, the logic of armed patrols & repression without conscience, the logic of occupation & counter-insurgency, the nature of Rule of Law itself, the nature of a territorial monopoly on the legitimate use of force
As an anarchist, with the end-goals of abolishing the State (policing & incarceration here), I particularly focus on the Crisis of Paradigms, proceeding to the institutional and individual issues. I have a lot of specifics that I won’t get into here, for brevity, on how I envision an entirely different way of life than the one we have now. I’ve written extensively about that but I don’t want to distract from the topic.
Social movements confronting police violence directly through resistance, employing a diversity of tactics. Prison breaks generally, and especially the freeing of political prisoners, those arrested for non-violent offenses, and those imprisoned for resistance. Accountability movements like CopWatch. Experimentation with civilian militias as oppositional alternatives to the police, like the Black Panthers, the EZLN, the Spanish anarchist militias, the Makhnovshchina, the Labor War Veteran’s Guard, the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units, and others throughout history. Hacktivists holding police accountable like with Anonymous. Self-defense of protest demonstrators like with the Black Bloc in Brazil. The establishment of Police Free Zones like in Occupy Oakland. Experimentation with collaborative self-determination and intentional community, beyond the paradigm of police & prisons. Building collective practices or processes for dealing with crimes of passion, predation, necessity, rebellion, and liberty in our communities directly, without relying upon the State or for-profit companies. Alternative methods for decision-making based on egalitarianism, mutual aid, and autonomy. When it gets to it, dismantling the State apparatus directly like the destruction of police stations in Egypt and Greece this decade.
For the Less Bold, Some Reforms
Diverting money away from policing & incarceration, and to reparations. Requiring police officers to carry personal liability insurance. Legalizing self-defense against police, like in Indiana. Fully legalizing self-defense against sexual assault, molestation, and domestic violence. Civilian police accountability boards with power to investigate, discipline, and fire police. Formal processes for neighborhoods or municipalities to disarm police & dissolve police departments. Federal data transparency (stops, arrests, budgeting, weapons, etc.) Abolishing the FBI. Abolishing Civil Asset Forfeiture. De-criminalizing houselessness. Amnesty for illegal immigrants. Abolishing Grand Juries. Ending the War on Drugs, in particular, ending racist policies punishing poor folks & people of color for drug offenses and weapons possession. Ending the War on Terror, especially the partnership of police and Feds with Fusion Centers, and the Surveillance State.