Eric Garner Sealed His Own Fate

When enough arms and legs were broken and enough lawsuits were filed as a result, there then came the search for other means to bring a resisting individual under control: Tasers, pepper spray, non-lethal projectiles, and the like, all of which can be effective in some situations but not without the risk of serious injury or even death in others.

And through it all, despite advances in police technology and tactics, by far the most commonly used method to subdue a resisting individual is what you saw in the video of the Eric Garner incident: If time allows, assemble enough cops to surround a suspect so that each cop can grab an arm or a leg or whichever body part that presents itself, wrestle the guy face down on the ground, and then get the handcuffs on him.  It happens every day in any city you can name, and I would hazard a guess that the Garner takedown was far from the most violent arrest that took place in New York City that week or even that day.

In examining the Eric Garner incident there are two fundamental questions to be asked: Was there probable cause to arrest him?  And if so, was the force used to effect that arrest reasonable?  As to the probable cause, Mr. Garner had been caught selling “loosies,” i.e., cigarettes that had not been taxed by New York authorities.  Cops have a barnyard expression for such arrests, which is commonly shortened for decorum’s sake to its initials, C.S.  But C.S. or not, the law against such sales is on the books and the NYPD is expected to enforce it.  Furthermore, the police had received complaints about Mr. Garner’s illicit commerce from local merchants, men and women who are forced to collect taxes on the cigarettes they sell, thus putting them at a competitive disadvantage to Mr. Garner’s more laissez-faire approach to business.   (Thanks to the high taxes, New York City has the most expensive cigarettes in the country.)

But alas for Mr. Garner, had the fatal confrontation not come over cigarettes, it very likely would have come over something else, for he was not a man disposed toward honest toil.  “Hold on there, Dunphy,” you say.  “What about De mortuis nil nisi bonum, and all that?”  But it is not I who has described Mr. Garner as being less than industrious, but his own wife.  Appearing beside Al Sharpton on the Dec. 7 Meet the Press, Esaw Garner told Chuck Todd that her husband “had issues, you know?  Heavy guy.  And he was very lazy, you know?  He didn’t like to do anything.  He wasn’t used to it.”  (Video is here; transcript is here.)

What he was used to is being arrested, which he had experienced some 30 times dating back to 1980, including previous arrests for selling untaxed cigarettes.  Why he found it more objectionable to be brought in on July 17 than he had in any of his previous arrests is a question that will remain unanswered, but on that day he was caught in the wrong and he knew the drill.  The police were going to have him answer for the charge in court, and no amount of sidewalk protestations was going to prevent that from happening.  When the police have made the decision you are going to jail, you are going to jail.  The only question then remaining is whether you will be taken there directly or with an intervening stop at a hospital.  The choice is yours to make.