Hearing that the Grand Jury decided that there was no probable cause to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner was devastating.
Grand Jury discussions are held in secret. No note taking, no recordings. No review of what was said, seen, missed, nothing. No information about the vote, how many times they voted, whether it was unanimous or not, nothing. So how do I know you did the right thing?
I watched the clip again from July 2014. I saw Eric Garner facing the officer talking to him, his hands clear and open, arguing but not being combative. He remained in place, not taking steps towards the officer. A big man, yes. But he was outnumbered by police who were armed. Garner’s back was turned to Pantaleo who placed him in a choke hold, a forbidden maneuver. I saw a man in a chokehold, with other officers quick to help bring him down. I saw Garner with his arm stretched out and heard him say twice “I can’t breathe.”
In any other circumstances, the words I cannot breathe would have set everyone in a frenzy to save another person’s life. Preserving life is a natural reaction, a reflex that we all have. It should kick into motion regardless of possible criminal records or perceived suspicions. But not in this case. For seven minutes after he said the words I cannot breathe the only care he got were handcuffs and someone patting his shoulder saying that they were going to try to get you up now, sir. Can you hear us? And Pantaleo waving to the camera.
I have seen a lot of injustice and inhumane behavior but that clip, watching everyone stand by while Garner was dead, nobody turning him, performing CPR, checking for a pulse, or taking off the handcuffs before loading him on a stretcher with the casual remarks “well, that’s gonna take six of us” was one of the cruelest disregards for human life that I have had the misfortune to see.
Watching Eric Garner die was disturbing. I explained his case this morning to my daughter over breakfast. She needs to know about these cases. She needs to know that people’s claims that “we are all equal” are empty slogans from an old propaganda campaign that was a failure from the start. We are not equal at all!
I know that what happened to Garner isn’t the first time. I know that it has gone on for a long time, yes. But these observations should not be followed with a shrug of resignation.
If I leave one legacy for my daughter it is going to be the memory that her parents did treat people as equals and that they didn’t discriminate. And if people ask her later what her mom did? I hope that she will say that mom stood up for those who had no voice anymore.