The Ongoing Garner Tragedy: Your Thoughts

Readers push back on these two:

Your dissenter said, “…while Garner is still conscious and speaking, tries to restrain him by holding his head in place.” Yeah, he was speaking alright. He was speaking, “I can’t breathe!” What the part of that does this reader not understand?

Another also quotes that reader:

It is hard to tell from the video, but it does not appear to me that the officer continued to apply the “chokehold” (a label that may have been inaccurately applied to this case) after Garner said he could not breathe. It looks to me as if that officer grabs him around the neck for only a few seconds, and then, while Garner is still conscious and speaking, tries to restrain him by holding his head in place.

The autopsy report stated that the death was caused by “compression to the neck, compression to the body, and prone positioning”. It doesn’t matter that the officer stopped choking him, because he continued to hold him down.

An expert weighs in:

I’m coming from the viewpoint of being a retired paramedic with over 20 years experience, the last few in executive level management. I also have a blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, so I am familiar with applying and receiving choke holds.

My impression of the takedown and restraint is that he was one big guy and that the choke hold was never fully applied. If it was, he would have been rendered unconscious in a matter of seconds.  I also noticed that before and after he was handcuffed, he did not receive any sucker punches or kicks.

On to the medical care, an area that I can speak about with some authority. The police have received plenty of criticism about letting him lay until the ambulance arrived. Well if you are someone with basic first aid training, there is nothing you can do for a person in respiratory distress except keep a eye on them. I counted two to four officers with him until EMS arrived, so they were doing that.

Why no CPR? Because he had a pulse and was breathing. CPR is only for pulseless and non-breathing patients. The female EMS worker is clearly shown checking for a pulse and we can safely assume breathing in the second video. Even though I see plenty to criticize about the EMS response, I would think they are competent enough to start CPR immediately if indicated.

My criticism of the EMS response shown in the video is the cursory initial examination, were they seemed to have missed how severe his distress was. I would have liked to seen at least oxygen being administer in the video. Perhaps his care improved once they got him into the ambulance, but it seems not as I have read that the EMS workers had been suspended.

Lastly, how they manhandled him onto the stretcher. It wasn’t pretty, but I have seen worse.  Picking up a limp human being of his size without manhandling him is very difficult without the right techniques and equipment. It has nothing to do with the color of his skin. My best case would have been to log-roll him onto a backboard and to lift him using the backboard onto the stretcher. My impression was that the EMS workers failed to properly control and supervise the lift of him from the ground to the stretcher. It happens sometimes. The firemen or in this case the policemen start moving the patient on their own.

Another reader:

I’ve been talking through the case with an acquaintance of mine in law enforcement, and he pointed out to me that, when the decision to arrest is made, you escalate force to whatever level is necessary to get the suspect into custody. You can’t just back out if you’re overmatched. You get backup, and you’re bound by procedure to continue to increase force until the cuffs are on. People who resist arrest can die; it’s a possible outcome. You can debate the chokehold versus the headlock, but the scenario could just as easily have resulted in a routine arrest.

So maybe the fault lies with Pantaleo’s decision to arrest on such a small misdemeanor, and/or the fault lies with Garner resisting. I keep thinking that there must’ve been an alternative to arrest for such a petty crime, but Garner had 31 priors, so it would seem a justifiable arrest. But they could have just told him to move along and revisited the scene later to see if that was sufficient.

If there is a racial issue here, it’s a systemic one. It’s just another example of black petty criminals being singled out. Garner was basically evading taxes in a city where tax evasion is a competitive sport in lower Manhattan among white collar criminals. Is that fair? No, but beat cops can’t arrest what they can’t witness. They had shop owner complaints about Garner, supposedly, so they were responding to that.

Another notes:

Garner wasn’t selling anything that day, and had no loosies on him. Did he have a record? Yes, but so did the officer:

Pantaleo was the subject of two civil rights lawsuits in 2013 where plaintiffs accused Pantaleo of falsely arresting them and abusing them. In one of the cases, Pantaleo and other officers ordered two black men to strip naked on the street for a search and the charges against the men were dismissed.

Another wrote just prior to this post showing similar polling to the ones he cites below:

I wrote on Friday to indicate I expected a slew of polling early this week backing up my assertion that the Eric Garner grand jury decision would polarize the electorate along more or less the same racial lines that the Ferguson case did. I predicted that the videotape would make little difference to whites who were using a popular racial narrative (thug vs. hero) as a lens through which to view this and other deadly encounters like the Ohio John Crawford and Tamir Rice shootings.

I stand corrected, at least at this juncture. Polling from Fox News and Bloomberg seems to indicate a much more lopsided view of the Garner killing, with less than half the number (Bloomberg) of Americans supporting the Garner decision as supported the Ferguson decision. It is true that a disturbing 32% of white Americans still, in the face of that video, support the grand jury in Staten Island. But 32% is close enough to South Park’s famous “a quarter of Americans are retards” trope to safely choose to draw no conclusions from that result.

It remains to be seen whether this is truly some kind of watershed moment, or if Eric Garner will join Sandy Hook in the annals of public tragedies that compel the spilling of much ink, and then no corrective action whatsoever. But if the polling had come out as I expected I would have been back here banging out a smug email regarding my prescient pessimism, so honesty demands I eat my portion of crow. Rarely have I been so happy to be so wrong. Thanks.

Another reader:

Regarding your take on the Washington Post poll of opinions towards each decision:

This suggests, does it not, that the gloomiest assessments of America’s ability to see through race are too dire. If we were truly racially polarized, we’d see similar responses to similar white-cop-black-victim scenarios. Which means we have some common ground to stand on.

You’re making a giant leap here, in my opinion.  You’re conflating peoples opinion on a decision regarding excessive force by law enforcement, not racial bias.  I would like to see the opinions on whether these people believe race played a part in either of these acts.  I’ve had several debates with conservative friends who strongly disagree with the Garner decision, but think race had absolutely nothing to do with it.  So I don’t think this speaks to your note about America’s ability to see through race.

One more:

I’ve been a NYC prosecutor for just under ten years. When I heard there was no indictment I was shocked, and I said at the time to a colleague that I certainly would have found something to charge those guys with based on those facts and with that video. The big story that I’m not seeing as widely reported as it should be is that it turned out that the Staten Island DA didn’t present any of the lesser charges. No one is saying that they tried to murder Garner, but I’d bet that even a Grand Jury in conservative Staten Island would vote for an indictment on Reckless Endangerment as a misdemeanor and probably as a felony. Just not presenting these counts is beyond not doing your job; it’s making sure that there is no indictment, and that seems very irresponsible to me.

Read all of our coverage of the Garner tragedy here.