It was one of the most difficult scenes in Spike Lee’s classic movie “Do the Right Thing,” the brutal strangulation of peace-loving Radio Raheem by New York City police in a Brooklyn pizza shop.
That scene touched a raw nerve as it recalled the 1983 death of 25-year-old graffiti artist Michael Stewart, another choke-hold victim of the New York City Police Department.
Now, we find ourselves enraged over the police killing of Eric Garner in Staten Island, which was captured on cell phone video as a police officer puts him in a choke hold, with the man pleading that he can’t breathe. Garner was taken away unconscious and later pronounced dead. Another day in America.
Let me be clear – Eric Garner was lynched. He was brutally assaulted and choked to death by a police officer who, supposedly trained, abused his authority with deadly precision. It is not enough to state that the officer used deadly force because when it comes to black males and police, there is a violent regularity that has persisted for decades. The manner in which black men and boys are set upon by law enforcement is consistent with their marginalization in society and the degree to which they are a criminalized class. There is no benefit of the doubt, no reasonableness, no dialogue – just force and upon the slightest protest on our part, violence and probable injury or death.
We need to be clear and unambiguous about Eric Garner’s death in the larger context of the suppression of black males. What is experienced by black males on a daily basis is seldom the experience of white males, and cannot be fathomed by whites in general. White mothers do not have to counsel their sons on their behavior should they encounter police or worry when their sons step out their door whether they will be a victim of police violence. Even in the most extreme situations when white males are the perpetrators of violent crime, police are in apprehend mode and not in pursuit with deadly intent.
Eric Garner was lynched.
He is the most recent case in a gigabyte file of such cases. I have yet to see the movie “Fruitvale Station” because I know how difficult it will be to see the reenactment of the killing of Oscar Grant. It cuts too close to home because I remember the killing of 15-year-old Phillip Pannell by a white Teaneck, N.J. police office in 1990. The boy was shot in the back with his arms raised in surrender mode. The white police officer, Gary Spath, was acquitted by an all-white Bergen County jury. The acquittal came amidst a massive police march through the community in support of the officer. That’s the other piece of this ongoing horror show; the closing of the ranks of the blue fraternity and the perpetual denial on the part of law enforcement that these episodes are not the end result of racist intent.
Eric Garner was a victim of racism.
The New York City Police Department is not alone in perpetuating crimes against black males or operating in a way to violate the civil liberties of black people. The NYPD just happens to be the largest police force in the country and has perfected the art of police abuse. Last week, the federal government announced the monitoring of the Newark, N.J. police force, which for years residents lodged complaints against. Now, it has come to light that officers in New Jersey’s largest city are even suspected of stealing personal property from residents they detain. In Chicago, the former city police commander, Jon Burge, presided over a department that regularly brutalized citizens and he himself was alleged to have engaged in violence. He was convicted in 2010 for lying about the torture of police suspects.
NYPD Chief Bill Bratton’s order that all officers undergo training on the proper techniques to apprehend suspects is too little in light of the brutality of Garner’s death. For starters, every officer on the scene should be dismissed. If officers sworn to uphold the law can witness a citizen being choked to death and not intervene, they are not capable of fulfilling their legal duty to protect and serve. The video clip clearly shows a man who was not confrontational, who was attempting to defuse the situation and was trying to communicate with the officers. He is taken down by the officers and then thrown to the ground as an officer puts him in a deadly choke hold. Garner can be heard on the video pleading “I can’t breathe,” but his physical condition was of little concern to the officers who were intent on demonstrating that they were the dominant force.
Eric Garner was lynched.
(Walter Fields is executive editor of NorthStarNews.com)