February 06, 2015


An activist friend asked me to go to the Staten Island court house a few weeks ago. He said they needed bodies to go and pack the place to demonstrate the public's concern over why the policeman who is on video apparently choking Eric Garner to death got off without charges. Everyone who saw the video was confused at how the policeman could recieve no conviction. The video provided a moment for many people to think "OK, black people aren't just making this stuff about frequent harassment up." I'd been away for all the Ferguson protests, so I went. All we were asking is to have the grand jury records be made available. I had to suppress a tear when Eric Garner's mom--she of the incredible two-toned braided bangs--sat down right next to me. As they read out various docket numbers filed by various parties, I could only imagine what she was going through. These weren't just case numbers to her. They concerned her flesh and blood.

But of course, there are different sides to every story. Even the policeman who administered the illegal chokehold seems as if he doesn't mind the court records being made public.

I got another side of the story when I ate Christmas dinner with both a nurse and a policeman. My attitude was that Eric Garner's death was just another case of rampant police brutality towards men of color. And Eric is on video repeatedly saying "I can't breathe." But the nurse claimed that when she was evaluating people on whether they need mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, the rule of thumb was that if you can speak, you can breathe. Eric said "I can't breathe" 11 times.

My policeman friend said that the cop who killed Garner was apprehending a crime--just doing his job and trying to subdue someone who was resisting arrest. Now, Eric allegedly was selling loose cigarettes and that is a crime. He's also been arrested (but not convicted) 30 times in the past. But there doesn't seem to be any proof of that sale except that an officer claims he saw Garner pass a cigarette to someone. Maybe that officer also saw Garner accept money for the cigarette which would make it an illegal sale. Or maybe Eric handed a smoke to a friend of his. Unless these court records are released, we simply won't know. It seems like opening the case would help everyone. Except perhaps for the prosecutor Dan Donovan, who is now running for Congress to replace the thuggish Representative Ryan Grimm. He resigned after pleading guilty to tax fraud charges.

Those of us who are aware of and against police brutality may be disappointed even if the court records are released. Because most of us, as we found with the Trayvon Martin case, don't know the law. But Trayvon Martin's death wasn't caught on video. I don't know when the judge who heard arguments on releasing records yesterday will decide. If anyone knows of any petitions or protests, please post the info here. We either need to have more faith in our justice system or we need to change it so that we can. This article outlines some of the details of the case..