White Cop – Black Suspect

This one is different.  I am going off topic again because this is a matter that should affect us all, Jew and non Jew alike. I cannot remain silent when I see an injustice done… even though it is unrelated to the issues I usually deal with here.

First the disclaimer. A grand jury consisting of an equal number of black and white jurors – has spoken. Officer Daniel Pantaleo of the NYPD was not charged in the death of  Eric Garner, a black man killed because of a chokehold he used to restrain him.

I was not there. I was not privy to all the facts of the case, nor any of the testimony. I have heard reports that the some of the proceedings will be released to the public. I hope this will happen soon. Perhaps we can then get some more clarity then.  But still – as it stands now, this grand jury decision is very puzzling.

I said this case was different. What I mean is that it is different from the case in Ferguson, Missouri case where a black man was also killed by a cop. This one had video taken of the event. It is clear that the black suspect was not threatening. He was unarmed. As the police approached him he kept proclaiming his innocence at the charges of selling loose cigarettes. Which I guess is illegal. But the police kept coming after him. They surrounded him and wrestled him down to the ground with Officer Pantaleo using a chokehold on him. Which is a banned (since 1993) restraint technique.

Mr. Garner cried out, ‘I can’t breath.’ ‘I can’t breathe.’  But to no avail. He was taken down and arrested. Soon after – he died. After an autopsy, the medical examiner  ruled it a homicide, blaming the cause of death on the chokehold.

It seems to me that restraining an unarmed man for a seemingly minor violation of the law with the the kind of excessive force I saw on that video is completely uncalled for, to say the least.

I’m sure there was no intent by Officer Pantaleo to kill anyone. It was certainly not premeditated murder… or any type of  intentional murder. But a man died because of another man’s direct actions. An action that were probably banned by the NYPD because of its lethal potential.

It was a case of manslaughter. Or at least involuntary manslaughter no better than driving a car irresponsibly – hitting and killing someone. To let Officer Pantaleo off the hook so easily is troubling to me.

To be fair, the suspect had asthma which contributed to his death. There is no way that the police knew that at the time. And then there is also the idea of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. Police are in constant danger from the criminals they pursue. The man he restrained was a big fellow. They knew nothing else about him. He broke the law… and they thought they were just doing their job. He was under arrest and resisted. It might be understandable that Officer Pantaleo used a banned method of restraint out of fear for his life or serious injury if less effective methods of restraint were used. Clearly that is no excuse. But surely there was no thought of killing him.

But still, it’s pretty clear what happened. It is recorded for all to see.  Selling loose cigarettes illegally? Was that crime worthy of the reaction by police I saw on that video?

By contrast, the Ferguson case had no video of the shooting. The victim there was a suspect in a somewhat violent theft that took place earlier in the day, which the cop was informed about… and which was accurate based on a video taken by a surveillance camera in the store he robbed. There was a fight between the two with a struggle over the cop’s gun. The victim was much larger and stronger than the cop. As the victim tried to escape the officer told him to stop. The victim turned around and started making threatening advances toward him. That’s when the cop shot and killed him.

The evidence presented to the Ferguson grand jury was consistent with the cop’s version of what happened. The testimony of opposing witnesses was contradicted by the evidence. Some of them had to change their testimony. The jury went with the cop’s version over the other witnesses because the evidence corroborated it.

I can understand why many black people and even many whites  feel that an injustice was done in Ferguson. Racial bias still exists in this country. That episode just raked up all of the latent emotions about it. But in that case, I do not believe race had much of anything to do with the victim’s death.
The New York case is different. I can’t help but think that in this case the outrage expressed by the black community is justified.

I wonder how the black cops of New York… or of anywhere see this. Are their thoughts any different from their fellow white cops? Do they think this was decided fairly by the grand jury? Or do they see it as an example of inherent racism in our culture which can at times be deadly? Did they back their fellow police officer? Or they back the black victim? Are they as surprised as I am about the lack of an indictment as I am?

Like I said at the outset I don’t want to 2nd guess a grand jury determination. They heard all the testimony and saw all the evidence. But in my view, there is enough visual evidence just from that video to at least indict him for involuntary manslaughter… and to allow a trial by jury decide his fate.

Eric Garner was 43 years old, a married man and a father. He leaves behind a wife and 6 children. There had to be a better way to handle this.

About the Author
My worldview is based on the philosophy of my teacher, Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik , and the writings of Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitcihk , Norman Lamm, and Dr. Eliezer Berkovits from whom I developed an appreciation for philosophy. I attended Telshe Yeshiva and the Hebrew Theological College where I was ordained. I also attended Roosevelt University where I received my degree in Psychology.