Grand jury does not indict NYPD cop in death of Eric Garner; Mayor de Blasio blames 'racism'

No true bill was returned by the New York grand jury that considered the coroner’s “homicide” finding in the death of Eric Garner, who was subdued with a choke hold as he resisted arrest.  Note that the coroner uses the term “homicide” in any death from other than natural causes, and the term does not have a criminal meaning.  However, that term, along with race, is being used to incite outrage and protest – but so far, thankfully, little violence, with arrests numbering in the low dozens.  New York’s police were far better prepared, and had incomparably better resources, than Ferguson, Missouri’s force.

Owing to availability of the internet video showing the choke hold, many commentators across the ideological spectrum, including Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren, Andrew Napolitano, and Charles Krauthammer, expressed shock, with many expecting an indictment for at least negligent homicide or involuntary manslaughter.  But the grand jury transcripts remain sealed, so we don’t know what medical evidence was heard relating to the cause of death (Garner was obese and suffered from asthma), nor do we know what else was presented to them.  The New York Times has published a report by J. David Goodman and Michael Wilson indicating that Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who administered the choke hold, testified to great effect:

Officer Pantaleo, 29, led the grand jury through the confrontation, narrating three different videos of the arrest that were taken by bystanders. His task would not be easy.

One video, widely seen on the Internet, seemed to show Officer Pantaleo using a chokehold — a move banned by the Police Department, but not explicitly against state law — to bring Mr. Garner down. The medical examiner’s office determined that the chokehold, as well as compression to the chest, caused Mr. Garner’s death, and ruled it a homicide.

The officer tackled some of the most damaging evidence head-on. He acknowledged that he heard Mr. Garner saying, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,” and insisted that he tried to disengage as quickly as he could, according to his lawyer, Stuart London. At the same time, Mr. Garner’s ability to speak, the officer testified, suggested that he, in fact, could breathe.

“He wanted to get across to the grand jury that it was never his intention to injure or harm anyone,” Mr. London said. “He was really just describing how he was attempting to arrest someone.”

His testimony, on Nov. 21, seems to have swayed the grand jurors who, on Wednesday, decided not to charge him with a crime. But the officer’s testimony, as recounted by Mr. London, seemed at times to be at odds with a video of the encounter, such as his stated attempt to get off Mr. Garner “as quick as he could.”

The narration he offered goes into some detail.  Keep in mind that the grand jurors saw four videos, not just the one the public has seen, and that they would have been able to slow them down and examine in minute detail what transpired, as Pantaleo told them:

Officer Pantaleo testified that when he put his hands on Mr. Garner, he was employing a maneuver taught to him at the Police Academy, hooking an arm underneath one of Mr. Garner’s arms while wrapping the other around Mr. Garner’s torso, Mr. London said. The move is meant to “tip the person so they lose their balance and go to the ground,” as seen in wrestling, Mr. London said.

But then things changed. As the struggle continued, one of Officer Pantaleo’s arms moved around Mr. Garner’s neck. Officer Pantaleo told the grand jury that he became fearful as he found himself sandwiched between a much larger man and a storefront window.

“He testified that the glass buckled while Garner was up against him and he was against the glass,” Mr. London said. “He was concerned that both he and Garner would go through that glass.”

On the video, the men toppled to the ground, but the arm around Mr. Garner’s neck did not appear to move. Officer Pantaleo told jurors he continued to hold on to Mr. Garner as he struggled to regain his balance, Mr. London said. He said he wanted to make sure that Mr. Garner was not injured by other officers rushing in, as well as to prevent Mr. Garner from possibly biting one of them.

I hope that a court will permit release of the entire grand jury record, as was done in Ferguson.

Meanwhile, the fact that Garner is African-American has led the mayor of New York to presume that racism was somehow involved.  In his statement following the no true bill decision’s announcement, Mayor de Blasio said:

… the case made him think about his son Dante, who is biracial.

“Chirlane and I have had to talk to Dante for years, about the dangers he may face. A good young man, a law-abiding young man, who would never think to do anything wrong, and yet, because of a history that still hangs over us, the dangers he may face – we’ve had to literally train him, as families have all over this city for decades, in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him,” De Blasio said.

De Blasio called the situation a “national moment of grief, a national moment of pain.”

“We’re not just dealing with a problem in 2014, we’re not dealing with years of racism leading up to it, or decades of racism – we are dealing with centuries of racism that have brought us to this day. That is how profound the crisis is. And that is how fundamental the task at hand is, to turn from that history and to make a change that is profound and lasting.”

The mayor is presuming that Officer Pantaleo would have behaved differently if Garner had been white.  I can see no evidence whatsoever that would lead to this conclusion, and as the man responsible for the NYPD, the mayor owes his police force some explanation of how he came to this conclusion.

Other than the race of the deceased, the only other factor that unites the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner is that both men resisted arrest.  Bob McManus, writing in the New York Post, blames that, not racism, for their deaths:

Eric Garner and Michael Brown had much in common, not the least of which was this: On the last day of their lives, they made bad decisions. Espically bad decisions.

Each broke the law — petty offenses, to be sure, but sufficient to attract the attention of the police.

And then — tragically, stupidly, fatally, inexplicably — each fought the law.

The law won, of course, as it almost always does.

I presume that Mayor de Blasio and his wife have told their son to never resist arrest.  That is good advice for everyone.  Had Eric Garner followed it, he would be alive today.

No true bill was returned by the New York grand jury that considered the coroner’s “homicide” finding in the death of Eric Garner, who was subdued with a choke hold as he resisted arrest.  Note that the coroner uses the term “homicide” in any death from other than natural causes, and the term does not have a criminal meaning.  However, that term, along with race, is being used to incite outrage and protest – but so far, thankfully, little violence, with arrests numbering in the low dozens.  New York’s police were far better prepared, and had incomparably better resources, than Ferguson, Missouri’s force.

Owing to availability of the internet video showing the choke hold, many commentators across the ideological spectrum, including Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren, Andrew Napolitano, and Charles Krauthammer, expressed shock, with many expecting an indictment for at least negligent homicide or involuntary manslaughter.  But the grand jury transcripts remain sealed, so we don’t know what medical evidence was heard relating to the cause of death (Garner was obese and suffered from asthma), nor do we know what else was presented to them.  The New York Times has published a report by J. David Goodman and Michael Wilson indicating that Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who administered the choke hold, testified to great effect:

Officer Pantaleo, 29, led the grand jury through the confrontation, narrating three different videos of the arrest that were taken by bystanders. His task would not be easy.

One video, widely seen on the Internet, seemed to show Officer Pantaleo using a chokehold — a move banned by the Police Department, but not explicitly against state law — to bring Mr. Garner down. The medical examiner’s office determined that the chokehold, as well as compression to the chest, caused Mr. Garner’s death, and ruled it a homicide.

The officer tackled some of the most damaging evidence head-on. He acknowledged that he heard Mr. Garner saying, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,” and insisted that he tried to disengage as quickly as he could, according to his lawyer, Stuart London. At the same time, Mr. Garner’s ability to speak, the officer testified, suggested that he, in fact, could breathe.

“He wanted to get across to the grand jury that it was never his intention to injure or harm anyone,” Mr. London said. “He was really just describing how he was attempting to arrest someone.”

His testimony, on Nov. 21, seems to have swayed the grand jurors who, on Wednesday, decided not to charge him with a crime. But the officer’s testimony, as recounted by Mr. London, seemed at times to be at odds with a video of the encounter, such as his stated attempt to get off Mr. Garner “as quick as he could.”

The narration he offered goes into some detail.  Keep in mind that the grand jurors saw four videos, not just the one the public has seen, and that they would have been able to slow them down and examine in minute detail what transpired, as Pantaleo told them:

Officer Pantaleo testified that when he put his hands on Mr. Garner, he was employing a maneuver taught to him at the Police Academy, hooking an arm underneath one of Mr. Garner’s arms while wrapping the other around Mr. Garner’s torso, Mr. London said. The move is meant to “tip the person so they lose their balance and go to the ground,” as seen in wrestling, Mr. London said.

But then things changed. As the struggle continued, one of Officer Pantaleo’s arms moved around Mr. Garner’s neck. Officer Pantaleo told the grand jury that he became fearful as he found himself sandwiched between a much larger man and a storefront window.

“He testified that the glass buckled while Garner was up against him and he was against the glass,” Mr. London said. “He was concerned that both he and Garner would go through that glass.”

On the video, the men toppled to the ground, but the arm around Mr. Garner’s neck did not appear to move. Officer Pantaleo told jurors he continued to hold on to Mr. Garner as he struggled to regain his balance, Mr. London said. He said he wanted to make sure that Mr. Garner was not injured by other officers rushing in, as well as to prevent Mr. Garner from possibly biting one of them.

I hope that a court will permit release of the entire grand jury record, as was done in Ferguson.

Meanwhile, the fact that Garner is African-American has led the mayor of New York to presume that racism was somehow involved.  In his statement following the no true bill decision’s announcement, Mayor de Blasio said:

… the case made him think about his son Dante, who is biracial.

“Chirlane and I have had to talk to Dante for years, about the dangers he may face. A good young man, a law-abiding young man, who would never think to do anything wrong, and yet, because of a history that still hangs over us, the dangers he may face – we’ve had to literally train him, as families have all over this city for decades, in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him,” De Blasio said.

De Blasio called the situation a “national moment of grief, a national moment of pain.”

“We’re not just dealing with a problem in 2014, we’re not dealing with years of racism leading up to it, or decades of racism – we are dealing with centuries of racism that have brought us to this day. That is how profound the crisis is. And that is how fundamental the task at hand is, to turn from that history and to make a change that is profound and lasting.”

The mayor is presuming that Officer Pantaleo would have behaved differently if Garner had been white.  I can see no evidence whatsoever that would lead to this conclusion, and as the man responsible for the NYPD, the mayor owes his police force some explanation of how he came to this conclusion.

Other than the race of the deceased, the only other factor that unites the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner is that both men resisted arrest.  Bob McManus, writing in the New York Post, blames that, not racism, for their deaths:

Eric Garner and Michael Brown had much in common, not the least of which was this: On the last day of their lives, they made bad decisions. Espically bad decisions.

Each broke the law — petty offenses, to be sure, but sufficient to attract the attention of the police.

And then — tragically, stupidly, fatally, inexplicably — each fought the law.

The law won, of course, as it almost always does.

I presume that Mayor de Blasio and his wife have told their son to never resist arrest.  That is good advice for everyone.  Had Eric Garner followed it, he would be alive today.