Faith, Love, Politics, and Social Justice

It Could Have Been Me: Further Reflections on the Death of Eric Garner

Yesterday we received the news that the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office has completed its report and finds that Eric Garner died as a result of a combination of pressure on his the neck and chest, along with his positioning on the ground while being restrained by police during the July 17 stop on Staten Island. Acute and chronic bronchial asthma, obesity, and hypertensive cardiovascular disease were cited as contributing factors. In other words, contrary to what I and many others had hoped, it was a homicide. Whether the officers intended for it to happen or not, their actions caused a man’s death.
So where do we go now?
For some, demanding that “killer cops pay the price” is the answer. For others, demanding an end to the “war on cops” is the answer. These two trenches grow deeper every day, as does the warfare between them and once again, here I am, right in the middle still talking about dialogue.
I could say more about policy and procedure I guess, but a good friend of mine has told me that really doesn’t speak to people who are hurting. So maybe it is better if I just share from my heart how I am feeling and what hurts me and maybe we can take it from there.
What hurts me is realizing that it could have been me who killed Eric Garner. See, I used to arrest people by doing exactly what those cops did because that is how I was taught to do it, head lock, take down, rear cuff, don’t stop until those cuffs are on, and yes, pile on top of the suspect. Thank God, I was able to retire without ever seriously injuring, let alone killing, anyone. But I don’t kid myself that the reason why is because I was better than other cops. I was not better. I was just luckier.
The possibility of getting killed is a very real part of police work. So is the possibility of killing someone else, either justifiably or by accident.
Training may have changed since my days as a cop, but the basic fear that someday things will go horribly wrong, and someone will die has not. Instances like this one stir that up for me and, I think, for other current and former cops as well.
To be sure, there have been plenty of instances of obvious police brutality where I did not feel this “It could have been me” thing because officers were so obviously over the line. When that happens, I feel like my responsibility is clear. I must speak out against them and their actions. But this time is different. Like I said, it could have been me.
So I guess the best thing I can say at this point is that I am so very sorry Eric Garner died. He did not deserve to have that happen to him. My heart goes out to his family and they are in my prayers every day. But the cops are in my prayers too.
I pray they will all be treated fairly. If they did wrong, they must answer for it. But if not, I pray some measure of grace and compassion will be extended to them knowing that they are faced with a very difficult job.
Either way, a man is dead and other men’s lives will never be the same and it could have been me.
Shall we talk about that?

2 responses

  1. A

    Majority factor: police like to pass judgement based on majority factors in my experience. From the cell phone footage and knowing how the dept. does not like bad press, my thought is this. Why remain physical beyond the point when the man continuously complained about his breathing. Why not take the risk of injuring his arm rather than to remain risking cutting off his air supply to put on the cuff. Another thing is that why was the officer not audible about him resisting arrest. Continue giving warnings in your defense so it doesn’t look like you snapped and was taking a man down on behalf of all the officers frustrations. Isn’t talking apart of procedure and a fair defense on the officers behalf. If Garner wasn’t a direct threat to society I believe they could have spent a little more time making the arrest instead of just trying to get it over with. Garners only weapon was his health. No hostages, none of that stuff that usually buys a perp additional negotiation time (& a signature for O/T, LOL :)). Just say

    August 2, 2014 at 6:39 pm

  2. Joann

    Thanks so much for sharing. And I do agree that police work is a very dangerous job. I also agree that there are instances where officers are fearful for their lives and need to apprehend suspects posing danger to themselves (and others), by any means necessary.
    But this was not one of those cases. Eric Garner was approached for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. He obviously did not want to be arrested as we can hear from the verbal exchange, BUT he had his hands up when the altercation turned physical. Not once did he hit, kick or bite any of the officers.

    Therefore, I don’t think anyone of them felt their lives were in danger. Could this have been you Karyn? Would you have done this to THIS man in THIS case? Hmmmm. I can split the difference when officers act with force because they are scared. After all, they are human, and no amount of training can totally eradicate the element of fear present when it comes to protecting one’s life against perceived danger. But there was no danger here- no weapon, no gun, just a big black man. They disregarded this man’s rights and ultimately his life without ANY viable present danger. Sure, make the collar if the law is broken, but be respectful of humans and their right to be treated fairly.

    August 2, 2014 at 11:36 pm

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