The Numbers On Police Encounters

Steven Malanga argues that “significant crime declines have been accompanied by a leveling off and then a reduction in confrontations with the police, as reported by Americans of all races”:

In 1996, [DOJ researchers] produced a preliminary report on police/citizen interactions that broadly estimated that some 45 million Americans had some type of contact with law enforcement during the preceding year. Of those 45 million, the study found, slightly more than half a million reported that the police had used force against them. This initial study, regarded as experimental, wasn’t detailed enough to say much more and was subject to large margins of error, but it led to a series of more comprehensive and in-depth reports, produced from 1999 through 2011.

What’s striking in the progression of these later studies is a steady decrease in the number of people having interactions with the police—from about 45 million in 2002 to 40 million in 2011—or from about 21 percent of the 16-and-older population to about 17 percent.

One clear reason for the decline has been the corresponding drop in crime: the number of people reporting crimes or other problems to the police fell by about 3.6 million from a peak in 2002. More important, perhaps, was that reports of use of force by police also fell, from 664,000 in 2002 to 574,000 in a 2010 report. Those declines occurred across all races. The number of African-Americans reporting that police used force against them fell from 173,000 to 130,000. Among whites, the number has dropped from a peak of 374,000 to 347,000.

But those interactions appear to have gotten more deadly. Douthat spotlights three data points:

The first is the overall crime rate, which (as many, though not enough, people know) has been falling since the 1990s, with homicide rates basically back to pre-1960s crime wave levels. The second is the level of mortal danger faced by policemen in the line of duty, which has been declining steadily since its most recent, 1970s-era peak; according to one estimate, American cops are less likely to be killed in the line of duty than at any point since the 1870s. The third is the rate at which civilians are killed by police officers, which has been … well, there the data gets extremely cloudy, because we don’t have good official statistics on the subject. (Which is why “collect better statistics” reasonably topsa list of plausible reforms.) At the very least, though, we know that the overall number of homicides has dropped over the last decade, and the (again, problematic) statistics we do have show an increase in policemen killing civilians over the same period.

If you assume that a free society needs to strike a balance, needs to grant the police sufficient latitude to keep public order without granting them so much latitude that their powers are too easily abused, then these three numbers provide a decent heuristic for figuring out when the balance has tipped too far in one direction or the other.

Did The Nanny State Kill Eric Garner? Ctd


All of our coverage of Eric Garner this week can be read here. Readers aren’t buying these arguments over the nanny state:

This is NOT about taxes.  This is about a guy being an unlicensed middle man.  For people who are poor, paying $1 for cigarette might be doable even though that’s double the price they’d pay per unit if they bought a pack.  If the pack only cost $2, someone could still pull a profit selling loosies at 25 cents each.  People would still buy them, people would still sell them. People sold loosies even when cigarettes were cheaper.

I live in California, in a few convenience stores (poor neighborhoods) I’ve seen a cup set up with “loosies” for sale.  It’s against the law.  I haven’t heard of any big arrests.

Another focuses on class:

So this is basically a guy who was trying to avoid paying taxes. How many people in suits are walking around free who do just that? I’m not even sure this is a race thing but more a class thing. Al Sharpton owes millions, but there are no cops throwing him down in chokeholds.

Another goes on a tear:

The non-indictment in the Eric Garner case makes me furious. People responding to it by claiming that cigarette taxes are the problem might make me even more furious.

It makes no difference whether we agree with the law Garner was breaking or not. It is the law, and he was breaking it (allegedly). The problem is not that the cops were trying to arrest him. The problem is that he died. If Garner had shoplifted and the cops had then confronted and killed him in this way, would that make it okay? The arguments of the conservative bloggers you quote seem to imply that it would. Which makes me want to vomit.

A friend suggested to me that maybe the people complaining about cigarette taxes could be a good thing, as it might be the only way to get white conservatives to pay attention to dead black men. Actually, I think it’s exactly the opposite of getting white conservatives to pay attention to dead black men. It’s a way for them to ignore that problem and pretend that the real problem here is “nanny state” taxes. “If we just get rid of those taxes, the whole issue goes away! Problem solved! Good job, guys! What, you think there’s still a problem? You think the problem is unchecked racism and brutality by the police? What a pathetic liberal loser, get out of here, all we need to do is get rid of cigarette taxes.”

On the other side, my own representative, Keith Ellison (I’m a huge fan generally), has been sort of hijacking this police racism/brutality/unaccountability conversation to talk about his own pet issues of poverty, inequality and raising the minimum wage. To the extent that he falls back on these issues as a way of avoiding addressing the real issue of police reform, I’m equally bothered by this response.

However, I think Ellison has more ground to stand on here, because the issues of economic inequality and inequality of treatment by law enforcement are undeniably intertwined. As Ellison points out, a lot of the same people are protesting both low wages and police injustices right now, which makes sense, because a lot of the same people are most negatively impacted by both of those things. That interconnection isn’t there with cigarette tax policy. If it wasn’t selling untaxed cigarettes, Garner could have been harassed/arrested/killed for a million other petty offenses. Like carrying an airsoft gun. The specific offense he was arrested for was not the issue.

Another points out:

The UK and many other European countries are far more of a nanny state. On just about every aspect of US life, there are dozens of examples of countries that are more regulated.  But it is uniquely in the US that those interactions between citizen and enforcer of the law ends up with a dead citizen.

This guy is selling loose cigarettes?  Write him a ticket. Issue a misdemeanor citation. Require him to show up in court in five days to answer the charge at a preliminary hearing.

The cop instead went for an illegal – illegal and forbidden by policy! – chokehold. And Staten Island gave him the ok. It is the relationship between the enforcer and citizen that is fundamentally flawed, not that laws exist. Someone trying to make it about taxes is frankly insulting; they are butting in to the conversation to talk about an unrelated hobby horse.

Another diverges from the others:

The bigger story in the Eric Garner case is one of Freedom, or lack thereof. Why the hell is it “illegal” to sell a fucking loosey? Quit taxing so much shit already.  Quit making so many fucking things illegal. Dismantle the damn regulatory state.  Without the pretense of so many government regulations and laws, Eric Garner would never have been harassed in the first place.

Live and let live and leave us the fuck alone!  Let us enjoy some of the “freedom” that America supposedly promises to us! That’s a message the white and black community should get behind.  But of course the Politicians would never allow it because there isn’t enough room for graft, power and corruption.

(Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

Dissents Of The Day

A rare sentiment from the in-tray:

I am having trouble understanding why you and many of my friends are so exercised about this case. Yes, it is a tragic accident, but, when I watch the video, I don’t see a murder, or even manslaughter. What I see is a big man resisting arrest and a police officer trying to restrain him. 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.

There have been a lot of comments online about whether the officer should have been trying to arrest someone for selling “loosies” on the street. The fault for that doesn’t lie with the officer, but the politicians who wrote the law and the officer’s superiors who insist that the law be enforced in this particular way. Imagine you’re that officer, and your job is to arrest someone twice your size who is resisting arrest. How would you do it? Pepper spray or a taser? We know how controversial that is. Is it fair to send this guy to jail for honestly trying to do his job? I don’t think so.

Another reader quotes me:

But there was no way to interpret [Megyn] Kelly’s coverage as anything but the baldest racism I’ve seen in a while on cable news. Her idea of balance was to interview two, white, bald, bull-necked men to defend the cops, explain away any concerns about police treatment and to minimize the entire thing. Truly, deeply disgusting.

I didn’t see Kelly that day. But I caught her show yesterday and she was very forthright in condemning the police. The only point she made is that she didn’t see proof that the excessive force used against Garner was motivated by racism. I tend to agree with her.

The police made clear their intent to arrest Garner for legitimate, albeit minor reasons. At that point Garner started arguing loudly, and he clearly had no intention of submitting. If he was going to be arrested, it was going to involve a struggle. He pretty much said exactly that.

I don’t know what the law is regarding the rights of people about arrested to quarrel with the cops, or physically resist. But I do know, from a purely common sense standpoint, that there’s no way to win that fight. You can’t argue with cops. Talk yes, argue no. If you argue like Garner did, you’re going to jail no matter what race you are.

I believe a white, Asian, or Hispanic male (of his size) would have been treated the same way. Maybe that’s wrong, but that’s the way it is. Everyone knows it. I’ve never understood why a lot of black men don’t get this fairly ordinary bit of common sense. Given the minor nature of the charges, Garner might have been able to talk his way out of arrest. But the minute he raised his voice, he was headed for the station. Most likely he would have been i-bonded out soon after arrival.

Of course, nothing excuses the subsequent use of clearly excessive force.

A World Without Any Eric Garners

Protests Continue Across Country In Wake Of NY Grand Jury Verdict In Chokehold Death Case

Tomasky doubts it will arrive:

Ask yourself: What would it take, really, for your average white cop not to see your average black male young adult as a potential threat? Because we can pass all the ex-post facto laws we want, and we can even convict the occasional police officer, which does happen from time to time. But that’s not where the problem starts. The problem starts in that instant of electric mistrust when the cop reaches for his gun, or employs a homicidal chokehold. That moment is beyond the reach of legislation, or of any punishment that arrives after the fact.

McWhorter rejects such pessimism:

Are we trying to create a humanity devoid of any racist bias, or are we trying to stop cops from shooting black men?

The two aren’t the same. A world without racism would be a world without dirt. A world where episodes like what has happened just this year to Garner, Brown, John Crawford, Akai Gurley, and Tamir Rice is much more plausible. We need special prosecutors, body cameras, and, if you ask me, an end to the war on drugs.

As such, we must be pragmatic. I know the people protesting Michael Brown’s death nationwide are sincere. But it’s easy to forget that in cases like this, sincerity is supposed to be forward-focused. It’s all too human for people to end up mistaking the heightened emotions, the threats, the media attention, the catharsis, as progress itself. But drama alone burns fast and bright. Think about how Trayvon is already—admit it—seeming more like history than the present.

He insists that “Ferguson was the spark, but Garner was ‘it'”:

Here is where I am quite sure Reverend King and Bayard Rustin would be planning not just statements and gestures, but boycotts. The recording of Garner’s death has the clear, potent and inarguable authority of the Birmingham newsreels. We must use that. Yes, use—we are trying to create change, not just perform.

A reader points to a performance:

I’ve never emailed you, though I am a long-time reader and admirer (and, more recently, a subscriber). But if you want something to lift your spirits a bit about Garner, take a look at this. It’s a protest organized by the Black Law Student Association at Yale Law School and joined by much of the law school community. During this silent protest, hundreds of students, faculty, and staff joined hands and created a human chain between the law school and New Haven’s Courthouse.  Everyone then staged a “die in” for 4 1/2 minutes.  It was a remarkably moving event, all the move moving given that it was organized entirely by young people who’d been buffeted by the news of Ferguson and the Garner verdict and are doing their best to be successful law students at a top law school.  Want to know something else? Not only did the New Haven police facilitate the protest, but the Chief of Police showed up in support, cheering the dean of the law school as he passed.

(Photo: On December 4, 2014 in Oakland, California Michaela Pecot wears a sign on her hat that reads ‘I can’t breathe’ in front of City Hall on the second night of demonstrations following a Staten Island, New York grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner. By Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

What’s The Point Of Body Cams? Ctd

A reader writes:

I take issue with the view that the Garner case is a rebuttal of the argument for body cams. Isn’t it compelling that we have this video to show us all what really happened? The public can now make up its own mind what it means. We don’t have to rely on eyewitnesses who are historically unreliable. From the scene with Garner, we would probably have at least six different descriptions from civilians of how he was taken down and two or three different ones from cops. But we don’t need that; we have the video.

Just because the grand jury returned no indictment doesn’t mean the video was a failure. Without the video, can’t you imagine that there would be plenty of pundits calling Garner a thug, emphasizing that he resisted arrest? But there is only a smattering of that. Instead we get things like Bill O’Reilly saying that Garner “didn’t deserve that.”

Another adds:

Three or four more videos like the Garner video? I guarantee we will get some legislation passed.

Another runs through other reasons why cameras would be a net benefit:

First, the most important goal of body-cam reforms is not to provide evidence of police abuse after it happens. It is to change the culture of policing so that the police, knowing they will be held accountable for their actions, will not commit the abuse in the first place. It also changes the behavior of the citizens being policed, making things less likely to escalate all around.

This is not a fantasy. These positive effects have been observed in reality in places where body-cam reforms have been implemented. For example, the Rialto, CA police New York City Public Advocate Displays Police Wearable Camerasdepartment found a 50% reduction in use-of-force incidents and a 90% reduction in citizen complaints after implementing body cameras. Those are astounding results.

In Garner’s case, I’m sure you noticed how hostile the police were to the man with the camera. They did not want to be videotaped. They did not think they should be videotaped. I think it is entirely probable that officer Pantaleo would have acted differently if the camera in question had been on his lapel, rather than in the hands of a bystander being aggressively shooed away by the cops. People act differently not just when they know they’re being recorded, but when they know that they are supposed to be recorded. It changes the culture.

Second, imagine that we had no video of this incident – not even from the bystander. Is there any doubt that it would now be just as murky a case as Ferguson? There would not have been nearly as much public outcry, and what objections there were would have been waived away by people taking the police’s word as gospel and sliming Garner as a violent thug who made the cops fear for their lives. Just compare the video of Tamir Rice’s killing to the police’s account of the incident before they knew there was video if you doubt that cops will lie their asses off in the absence of a video.

Video evidence can only be a good thing in these cases. The widespread consensus that Garner’s killing was wrong would not exist without this video. In all likelihood, neither you nor I would have even heard about the incident. It would have been just another of these everyday injustices that go unnoticed and unpunished every day.

More on the Rialto example here. One more reader:

Perhaps you can remember another recent incident in which there was a horrific attack but a perpetrator got off virtually scot free. People attacked the system, people defended the system, but in the end nothing changed. The there’s a video, and there’s talk of a coverup, of the grave injustice, of the callousness of a system that would fail to punish the person who did such an obvious thing.

I’m talking of of Ray Rice. It was patently obvious that Rice was guilty of assault. You don’t need to see a video to know that his fiancee was knocked unconscious – it was part of the story. But apparently if you’re Roger Goodell (or other defenders of the slap on the write), that’s more or less ok until the public sees the tape.

This is precisely the problem that I have with some folks on the right now suddenly discovering that the police are capable of extraneous violence. The facts are so clear, so obvious, yet since there’s not a video, “I stand with law enforcement”. All you have to do is – and I don’t think I’m exaggerating here – talk to a person of color in any minority neighborhood in literally anywhere USA to hear stories just like Eric Garner’s, minus the asthma and videotape. They could look at the claims of police brutality, instead of waving it away with claims of “race baiting”. But if there’s video, somehow now they’re the great defenders of the public from an out-of-control police force.

Update from a reader with a gloomy cynical take:

Busy afternoon, but a brief response to your reader who wrote: “Three or four more videos like the Garner video? I guarantee we will get some legislation passed.” Sadly, I disagree. The point of the Albert Burneko piece you excerpted yesterday, as well as many contributions by Ta-Nehisi Coates, is that the system that failed to bring the Garner case to trial is not broken, but working exactly as designed. The system was designed by politicians to do exactly what it is doing, and the politicians were elected by the people, who intended that they design precisely this system.

Fox News is covering this matter in a way you describe as “the baldest racism I’ve seen in awhile on cable news.” They are doing so because they are the cable news network of the people who elected the people who designed the system that failed to achieve an indictment in Staten Island. I believe that we will see polling, probably early next week, that indicates a division of public opinion in the Garner case, and that this division will fall more or less along the same racial lines as the polling on the Ferguson matter.

I believe the existence of a videotape presenting exactly what happened will make little difference here, as I believe the exact circumstances in any given case make little difference to the holders of these opinions. The video in question may have stiffened the spine of a few folks like Charles Krauthammer and Andrew McCarthy, but Fox News knows its audience. They don’t need a videotape to decide what happened when a hero met a thug in the hellscape of urban NYC.

We don’t need more videotapes. Conor posted plenty in his excellent summation. Later the same day as that post, the Tamir Rice video was released. Here’s the one from the John Crawford Wal-Mart shooting in August in Ohio that Connor missed. This video did not persuade the grand jury in that case to order up any indictments either. This isn’t a matter of three or four more tapes. Everyone knows what’s on the damn tapes.

This too shall pass. We will move onto something else, so much more quickly than seems possible. Like Sandy Hook, we will scream and we will rend and we will finally change the subject, having achieved nothing. The politicians want nothing achieved, because the voters want nothing achieved. And the beat, as you say, will go on.

(Photo of a police cam from Getty Images)

Chart Of The Day

Minor Crimes

Ben Casselman and Andrew Flowers examine police stats on Eric Garner’s neighborhood:

The New York City Police Department collects data on criminal complaints by precinct, broken down by the level of the alleged offense — felonies, misdemeanors and “violations,” which are minor crimes such as harassment, disorderly conduct and possession of marijuana. We can use felonies per capita as a measure of the serious crimes people are most concerned about. Violations per capita, meanwhile, is a measure of broken windows-type offenses, which usually involve more discretion from the police. (The data we’re using lumps together cases where a police officer witnesses a crime directly and cases where a member of the public calls in a complaint. A police spokesman said most violation-level offenses are witnessed by an officer.) As the chart [above] shows, there’s a strong relationship between the two: Neighborhoods with more felonies also have more minor violations. That’s what we’d expect in a city using the broken windows approach.

But look at the red dot representing Staten Island’s 120th precinct, which includes Tompkinsville. It’s significantly above the trend line, meaning it has a higher rate of violations than expected based on its underlying crime rate. From 2008 to 2012, the precinct averaged 11 violations annually per 1,000 residents; based on its felony rate, we’d only expect about seven. Only one of New York’s 76 precincts has a larger disparity.

A Witness To A Police Shooting

David Corn recounts his experience as one:

I went to the courthouse at the appointed hour and waited to be called into the grand jury room. My time in the drab conference room with the grand jury was brief. The jury was, as they say, a diverse group. But most of the jurors looked bored. A few seemed drowsy. The prosecutor asked me to identify myself and certify I had filed the statement. He asked me to describe where I had been and whether I had seen the full episode. But he never asked me to provide a complete account.

The key portion of the interview went something like this:

Prosecutor: You saw him start to run?

Me: I did.

Prosecutor: Did you see anything in his hand?

Me: No.

Prosecutor: Did you see him holding a knife?

Me: No. But I….

Prosecutor: Thank you.

I had wanted to say that I had seen him drop the heavy rock and bolt and that it was unlikely he had been able to grab and brandish a knife while sprinting. And I thought the grand jurors should know that he had not charged at any of the officers; he had been trying to dash through an opening between two of the cops in order to flee. And if they were interested in my opinion regarding the necessity of firing on him, I would have shared that, too.

But the prosecutor cut me off. He didn’t ask about about any of this. And not one of the jurors asked a question or said anything.

I left the room discouraged. This was not a search for the truth. It appeared to be a process designed to confirm an account that would protect the officer who had killed the man.

Don’t _______ While Black

In the wake of the Garner tragedy, Ijeoma Oluo tweeted out many examples of actions that prompted officers to use lethal force against African-Americans. A round-up of her tweets:

Don’t play in the park with toy guns and maybe they won’t kill you. Don’t ask for help after a car accident and maybe they won’t kill you. Don’t wear a hoodie and maybe they won’t kill you. Don’t cosplay with a toy sword and maybe they won’t kill you. Don’t shop at Walmart and maybe they won’t kill you. Don’t take the BART and maybe they won’t kill you. Don’t ride your bike and maybe they won’t kill you. Don’t reach for your cell phone and maybe they won’t kill you. Don’t go to your friend’s birthday party and maybe they won’t kill you. Don’t sit on your front stoop and maybe they won’t kill you. Don’t “startle” them and maybe they won’t kill you. Don’t “look around suspiciously”and maybe they won’t kill you. Don’t walk on a bridge with your family and maybe they won’t kill you. Don’t play “cops and robbers” with your buddies and maybe they won’t kill you. Don’t work in a warehouse repairing instruments and maybe they won’t kill you. Don’t stand in your grandma’s bathroom and maybe they won’t kill you. Don’t pray with your daughters in public and maybe they won’t kill you. Don’t go to your bachelor party and maybe they won’t kill you. Don’t have an ex boyfriend who might be a suspect and maybe they won’t kill you. Don’t call for medical help for your sister and maybe they won’t kill her. Don’t hang out in the park with your friends and maybe they won’t kill you. Don’t get a flat tire and maybe they won’t kill you. Don’t park in a fire lane and maybe they won’t kill you. Don’t reach for your wallet and maybe they won’t kill you. Don’t let your medical alert device go off and maybe they won’t kill you.

I’m done for today. My heart can’t handle any more.

Meme Of The Day

A reader’s take on it:

#CrimingWhileWhite is basically white people copping to crimes they committed and either weren’t arrested for or were let off with relatively minor punishment. It’s been a bit watered down considering how long it’s been trending, but my point isn’t so much the hashtag as what it means about crime statistics.

Your recent Chart of the Day was designed to demonstrate that blacks “commit” crimes at lower rates than whites perceive, though still at a disproportionately high rate for their (our) population. I think what #CrimingWhileWhite suggests is that not only do blacks commit crime at a lower rate than perceived, but that they are arrested for “criminal” behavior at a much higher rate than whites. In short, white people can engage in behavior that is technically illegal and not get ticketed or arrested and therefore their behavior is not recorded as a crime for statistical purposes. Whereas black people, especially poor black people, who engage in similar behavior are rarely extended that courtesy and as such they do become statistics.

For example, the reported rate of marijuana usage of is virtually identical across ethnic groups at around 11-13%. In fact, among young people, 18-25 years old, blacks use marijuana at a lower rate than whites. However, blacks are arrested for marijuana possession 3.5 times more often than whites. In the District, the arrest rate for blacks is a staggering 8 times as for whites! It doesn’t take long to criminalize an entire group of people when the game is rigged like that.

So when you casually stipulated that it’s natural that police officers might be wary of young black men because they do tend to engage in criminal activity at a higher rate than non-blacks, keep these statistical realities in mind. What someone living in Dupont Circle or Adams Morgan might take for granted being able to do in peace, e.g. have an ounce of weed and a pipe, would result in a felony possession charge for a poor black kid in Baltimore. I don’t need to say more about the effects of a felony charge on a person’s future employment and economic prospects.

I know you’ve been an outspoken advocate of marijuana decriminalization and I applaud your efforts on that front. But the deck is stacked against black and brown people in America and has been since its very founding.

Update from a reader:

I hate things like #CrimingWhileWhite. They are as unscientific as Hannity using a web poll of his own viewers to show that he is right about something. You don’t know if the person is lying or not, you don’t know if their friend mouthed off or not, you don’t know if their friend was carrying more or not, and you don’t know if the friend already had a rap sheet. And mostly you don’t know about the times that a black person got off with a warning because the cop was tired, it was the end of his shift and he just wanted to go home. Or the number of times the white person didn’t get off with a warning for the same action.

On the other hand, I do like the data that shows that while whites smoke pot as much as blacks they don’t get arrested as often. That’s actual data that shows the same point. #CrimingWhileWhite just make people feel good and reinforces existing perceptions but isn’t anything one can base a reasoned decision on.

The DOJ’s Investigation Into Garner’s Death

Damon Root supports it:

Holder’s decision to launch a federal inquiry is fully consistent with the original purposes of federal civil rights legislation, which dates back to the Civil Rights Act of 1866. That law was passed by the Republican-led 39th Congress in the wake of the Civil War in response to the former Confederate states’ attempts to harass and oppress the recently freed slaves by stripping them of their newfound liberty and property, denying them the right to keep and bear arms for self-defense, and failing–or refusing–to provide them equal treatment under the law.

In other words, the whole point of federal civil rights law is to provide a legal check against state-sanctioned injustice, such as the egregious police misconduct that killed Eric Garner. Attorney General Holder should be commended for putting federal law to its intended purpose in this case.

Paul Cassell hopes the DOJ moves quickly:

With regard to substance, the facts are disturbing — and seemingly, in large part, recorded on video.  And with regard to procedure, unlike the Michael Brown grand jury, we don’t have transcripts of testimony to peruse to make an informed assessment about the fairness of the process. Questions abound.

Here’s where the Justice Department could perform a valuable service — by actually completing this civil rights investigation expeditiously.  To be sure, the proof required for a federal rights charge is demanding. But if the Eric Garner facts are as clear cut as the video makes them out to be, there is no reason why the Justice Department can’t rapidly investigate the case and quickly announce what it finds. The Justice Department should live up to the attorney’s general’s promise yesterday to “expeditiously” announce its decision on whether charges are appropriate in the Eric Garner death … and in the Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin deaths.

But Amanda Taub isn’t expecting much from the DOJ:

Demanding a federal investigation is a good way for politicians like de Blasio, Schumer and Gillibrand to show their concern about police violence. Unfortunately it’s not likely to bring justice for Garner.

Simple murder and manslaughter aren’t federal crimes. But killing someone can be one in special circumstances, including when it’s an intentional violation of civil rights. What the DOJ can do is bring charges under the federal civil rights statute in order to prosecute Pantaleo for Garner’s death. And that legal standard is difficult to meet: prosecutors would have to prove that Pantaleo willfully deprived Garner of his civil rights. A police officer intentionally killing someone outside of the set of circumstances in which deadly force is permitted would qualify. But a civil rights charge requires proof of intent, whereas a state manslaughter case could be made by demonstrating negligence