Before anyone jumps the gun and suggests that I’m blaming Barack Obama for the death of Eric Garner, read on. I’m not.
As New York City prepares for protests — hopefully peaceful — after the grand jury’s decision not to indict in the death of Eric Garner, it’s worth a look at how we got here.
Garner reportedly had many prior arrests, which means that he was known to the NYPD and may have been known to the officers on the scene who took him down the day he died, July 17, 2014.
Why did they decide to take him down in the first place? That’s not clear even in the video. The video of his death is unfortunately too short, and starts after the confrontation has already started. The narrator says he is being “beaten up” just for “breaking up a fight,” but that appears to be inaccurate. Garner starts off in the video showing anger that the police have confronted him repeatedly, over time, not just that day. He does not appear to be threatening anyone, and according to reports had in fact just stopped a fight between other people. So it’s not clear why the police elected to use force on him. A citation would probably have sufficed.
But a citation for what?
Garner was reportedly selling “loosies,” individual cigarettes taken out of their original packaging. That’s a crime?
Yep. Since 2010, that’s a crime, sayeth the unaccountable bureaucrats at the Food and Drug Administration.
An FDA rule issued on June 22, 2010 — well within the Obama era, under a president who has unleashed bureaucracy on the entire country — mandates that individual cigarettes cannot be sold without their original packaging. You must not sell an unhealthy product that everyone knows is unhealthy unless it’s still in the polluting box that it originally came in.
If you sell cigarettes, you must comply with the following bullet points. Note the bold.
- Check photo ID of everyone appearing under age 27 who attempts to purchase cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, or smokeless tobacco.
- Only sell cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, and smokeless tobacco to anyone age 18 or older. **
- Only sell cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, and smokeless tobacco in a direct, face-to-face exchange. ***
- Do NOT break open cigarette or smokeless tobacco packages to sell products in smaller amounts.
- Do NOT sell cigarette packages containing fewer than 20 cigarettes.
- Do NOT sell single cigarettes, also called “loosies”.
- Do NOT give away free samples of cigarettes.
- Do NOT give away free samples of smokeless tobacco except from a “qualified adult-only facility.”
- Do NOT sell flavored cigarettes or flavored cigarette tobacco (other than menthol).
* This is only a summary of the laws. For the full list of federal laws, visit: www.fda.gov/BreakTheChain.
Selling and buying loosies is about avoiding taxes. Garner was being a fringe entrepreneur. That’s not to say that he’s a hero. He appears to have been a guy on the make. What he was doing was illegal and he knew that. None of that justifies the force used on him, but it’s important to keep in mind that the 43 year old was well overweight and actually died not of choking, but of a heart attack. Obviously the heart attack was influenced by the arrest. Could the police have predicted that taking him down would end up killing him? Intent to kill doesn’t appear to be in play in the video. That rules murder out. But there will be a federal investigation.
The strongest charge that the grand jury could possibly have handed down to the officer was some form of manslaughter or negligent homicide, and that might have been appropriate. The force used looks excessive. But the grand jury decided against that after reviewing the evidence, which means a jury was even less likely to convict. That doesn’t mean that they’re right. Seems like a marginal call either way. Seems like a bad call for the police to take him down by force. I don’t see why they couldn’t have given him a ticket, unless there are relevant events that we don’t know about that happened prior to the video.
It also is a bad call to let the FDA start creating new crimes, but President Obama has made a bad habit of turning the government loose on the whole country, and then daring courts to stop him. He’s a terrible president that way, and disrespects the rule of law and the rights of individuals to have any kind of certainty where we all stand with respect to the law at any given moment. Obama’s unleashing of the bureaucracy is among his most detestable actions. The next president has got to work with Congress to rein the unruly and power-hungry federal bureaucracy back in, or we all really are going to become felons in one way or another. We all will be subject to capricious and arbitrary law enforcement, which is really lawlessness and oppression.
Eric Garner died protesting (or evading, take your pick) taxes, along with violating the diktats of a bureaucratic government that has grown too remote from the people and too oppressive not just over black men, whose lives do matter and is among the reasons that the pro-life movement exists, but over all Americans. We are all subjects to the bureaucracy’s whims, and less and less true citizens as the bureaucracy grows more powerful. Garner didn’t need to die for that, he shouldn’t have died for that, but the officers involved aren’t guilty of murder.
May the protests remain peaceful.