Let’s stipulate a few things up front. I don’t think that the fatal police takedown of Eric Garner was justified, based on the offense that was in play. That offense was selling illegal cigarettes out of their manufacturer’s packaging — so-called “loosies.” Eric Garner did that, repeatedly, and had been arrested for it previously to the day that he died.
However, my information in this case is incomplete, as is the video we have all seen, as is your information. The grand jury may have gotten it wrong when they declined to indict, but they do know more about this case than any of us knows.
Eric Garner was well known to the NYPD. In 2007, while he was in prison at Rikers Island, he wrote a civil rights case against the NYPD alleging that an officer had sexually assaulted him during another arrest. That case was dismissed, but not on the evidence or lack thereof. It was not adjudicated because Garner failed to provide the court a forwarding address when he left prison.
At the time of his death, three misdemeanor cases were pending against Garner, and he was out on bail. Those three cases were among the 31 times he had been arrested prior to the confrontation that resulted in his death. The father of six should have had an express lane with the NYPD and the prison system.
The fact that he was out on bail has been mostly lost in today’s discussions about the case, but it’s highly relevant. Out on bail, on the day of his death he was breaking a law that he had had been caught breaking over and over again. He was a recidivist, if petty, street criminal. But the crime he committed was, frankly, a stupid crime that is the result of New York’s onerous, even oppressive, policies regulating daily life. Personally, that city has too much government for me and I never want to live there or any place like it. To each his own.
The majority of New Yorkers have voted in support of such policies for decades now. The policies that the majority of New Yorkers support with their votes include the city’s tax hikes on cigarettes. New York City and State add $4.35 and $1.50 respectively to the price of every single pack of cigarettes every day. New York is the most expensive city in America in which to buy cigarettes and has been for years.
New York voters bought the line that the taxes would pay for government health and education programs. But the high taxes have created the city’s black market, of which Garner was a willing seller and untold numbers of others are also willing buyers and sellers. Money, like water, usually flows along paths of least resistance.
They buy cigarettes more cheaply out of state where taxes are lower, smuggle them into New York as if they are petty cartels hauling illegal drugs, and sell them on the streets of the city. The entire transaction process is illegal, and the sellers and the buyers know that.
Most of the buyers and sellers happen to be young, black men, as they are New York’s most likely smokers. But some of the buyers are also wealthy white New Yorkers, Asians, Hispanics and every other ethnicity and income level. Everyone hates to pay more for something than they absolutely have to. Even people who vote year after year to keep making their government bigger and more powerful and therefore more expensive. They vote for a policy that they find ways to escape in their daily lives.
Selling illegal cigarettes is obviously not a capital offense. It’s punishable by fines, by seizure of the merchandise you’re attempting to sell, revocation of your sales license if you have one (obviously loosies sellers don’t have licenses), but it’s not a violent crime. That’s why the officers’ behavior, officers that include the black female who was in charge of the group of officers there, is puzzling. Non-violent crimes do not usually call for violent response from law enforcement.
It’s a misdemeanor crime that can rise to class E felony with repeat offenses. That means prison time, and in Garner’s case, more prison time and perhaps a longer sentence for a repeat offender.
Loosies selling hurts legal businesses in New York, who do pay their fees and taxes, by undercutting their sales. But ultimately it’s a crime of tax evasion. Garner was out on bail for previous violations, which may explain why he resisted arrest (nonviolently and unarmed) the day he died. He faced felony charges at some point and perhaps more prison time if convicted. For some reason, Al Sharpton never mentions any of that.
Should selling loosies even be a crime? Cigarettes are legal, after all. New York’s publication on the regulations sells the regime as an effort to prevent underage smoking. “It’s for the children,” progressives always say when denting the freedoms of adults. The same progressives are now denouncing police for enforcing laws that they wanted and put on the books. The smoking rate has fallen in New York, but it has also fallen all over the country. The loosies law could also be about preventing some nefarious actor from selling poisoned cigarettes — though cigarettes themselves are more or less poisonous. And poisoning people is already a crime, as it should be. The state doesn’t necessarily have to ban loosies to keep people from poisoning other people.
The loosies law is really about preserving New York’s ability to control business and collect taxes, with the armed police force empowered to that end. Collecting taxes is the one thing that the state will not cease and will never rest from doing. That big government that New Yorkers keep voting for is very expensive. It has a rapacious appetite for more and more money — especially in the hands of progressives and socialists, such as New York’s current leadership.
Mayor Bill De Blasio said today that he wants to change policing practices, and he keeps emphasizing race, but not oppressive government’s role here. New policing practices may or may not help, but depending on what De Blasio demands, more serious crime rates might go back up after decades of effective policing and decline. A wiser move would be to abolish so many crimes from the books altogether and loosen up government, bring it back from where we are now — practically all felons, whether we even realize it or not.
But Mayor De Blasio has no interest in that. Like the majority of New Yorkers, he wants government to get bigger and more powerful, which ultimately means it becomes more deadly.