In one of the most deeply disturbing videos on social media, Eric Garner utters the words, “I can’t breathe,” no fewer than six times. It was an eerie scene, coming just minutes before he was rendered unconscious. Within an hour, he was pronounced dead after being placed in a deadly chokehold by a New York City police officer.
There can be no doubt that the police overstepped their regulations by using a chokehold on Garner. What’s more, anyone who saw Garner, who was accused of selling loose cigarettes, might easily discern that the towering, overweight African-American man might well have had some respiratory issues that might place his health in jeopardy should a chokehold be administered.
Garner was involved in nothing that was life threatening. He had no assault weapon and was apparently not suspected of doing anything violent. Nonetheless, he lay dead within an hour of his senseless confrontation with New York’s Finest.
William J. Bratton, New York City’s police commissioner, said the chokehold by Office Daniel Pateleo around Garner’s neck is a firmly banned action by the department. He and another officer were immediately reassigned to desk duties in the department and ordered to turn in his badge and gun. Meanwhile, the behavior of the others officers in that scene is under review by the internal affairs division of the department.
Nonetheless, this seems to be a clear example of the age old rule where, when it comes to police and communities of color, the ends justify the means. What mattered to Officer Pateleo was not the rules and regulations of the department, but rather the urgent need to have a Black man behave precisely as he has been instructed.
Garner was a 43-year-old Staten Island father of six. But that was not the way he was viewed by Officer Pateleo and his colleagues. Garner’s family joined with the Rev. Al Sharpton to demand a full investigation into the case and asked other clergy leaders to apply pressure on officials to do the same.
That is the least New York’s elected officials and clergy should do. There are still important hurdles to climb in the relationship between New York City police and the communities of color they purport to protect. This is an example of the need for additional soul searching — and reemphasis of the department guidelines — to get justice for the family of Eric Garner and to ensure this shameful incident doesn’t happen again.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan
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(Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)