On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner was killed in Staten Island. The death was eventually ruled a homicide as Mr. Garner was killed by use of an illegal chokehold. Seven years later, although his death was ruled as a homicide, there has not been any accountability or closure for his legacy or family. Video footage which has now become the norm today in instances of police misconduct, showed the events unfold and the obvious use of a tactic that was supposed to be illegal.
I do not think it is appropriate to go into a person’s life or past doings when they are no longer here to defend themself. The only thing that warrants mentioning here is the fact that Mr. Garner’s arrest was allegedly for a non-violent crime of selling untaxed cigarettes. Once again a scene of alleged resisting arrest turned deadly. The obvious question here is, what could have been handled differently and why has this scenario repeatedly played out before Mr. Garner’s untimely death and continued after? The fact that his death occurred almost 10 years ago and we are still having the same discussion is the obvious problem. A man is dead before having been formally charged or convicted or even given the opportunity to provide a defense. Deadly force was used and inadequate use of de-escalation. The end result was another Black man dead and another case settled with an unfulfilled promise about reform.
I recently re-watched an episode of All American, a show I discovered during the pandemic and a must watch. In the episode, the main character, who is an African American teen, falls victim to a drive-by shooting that was not a gang related crime. However, when he was brought to the hospital for treatment of his injury, the doctor’s prejudiced assumptions almost cost him his life. When surrounded by three professionals, two believed that heavy pain medication and a hasty blood transfusion would be wasted on him after unfounded criminal assumptions. If his third doctor, an African American woman, had not spoken on his behalf, then this ignorance would have most definitely cost him his life. One can argue it is the same biased assumptions made by some law enforcement officials that cause non violent situations to quickly become out of control leaving one or more individuals hurt or killed. Rayshard Brooks being killed last summer during the George Floyd protests is an example of a situation that was mishandled by the police. This mishandling ended up with Mr. Brooks dying for what started out as a non-violent charge.
A solution is not as simple as it seems. Racial bias is a complex issue for some and undoubtedly can occur within the same race. There are those that vastly oppose the Stop and Frisk policy formerly used in places such as New York. Yet, there are those individuals in the same neighborhoods that have high crime or reside nearby that are not against the policy and found it useful in stopping crime before it started. There have been instances where law enforcement discriminate or use unwarranted force against those who are of the same race as them as well.
One thing evident is that education is needed. We see biased treatment based on where a person resides, their culture, how they speak, education level, etc. Those tasked with protecting and serving the public must understand those they are protecting. How you would address someone from one race may not necessarily be the same way you would address someone of a different race. A person that is big in stature such as Mr. Garner was may not be a threat. Most importantly, if you outnumber a person and the person you are trying to arrest or bring in does not have a weapon, there should not be a justification to use deadly force such as the case with Eric Garner. I have never been through police academy training or tactical training but shooting and certain combat moves should be skills that are practiced and mastered by those who ultimately serve and protect all members of society no matter their race. The skills learned should always be applied only when absolutely necessary and with conscious de-escalation tactics exhausted. Sensitivity training that involves learning not just about backgrounds but also neighborhoods is crucial. Had this been done with Mr Garner, perhaps the person that took his life by using an illegal chokehold would have realized that he had no reason to use deadly force on someone who was not violent.
Unfortunately, none of these suggestions will bring back Eric Garner and so many of those that died after him including George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Daunte Wright and countless others. Conversations still need to be ongoing and lessons learned. There is always hope and the will to change can be established with continual discussion, improvements, and collaboration between law enforcement and the public they serve. Let us not forget Eric Garner and so many others. In turn, we should encourage change through active dialogue and by making meaningful strides with improving relationships and trust with those who serve to ultimately protect us.