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?