He was a 43-year-old married father of six. His alleged crime: Selling "loose," untaxed cigarettes on a Staten Island street corner. He was tackled by a gaggle of police officers, including one who subdued him for agonizing seconds with a chokehold, a move that the New York police department had outlawed because of its propensity for causing severe injury and death. The entire encounter was captured clearly on video. After Eric Garner did indeed perish in the takedown, a medical examiner classified his death "a homicide."
Garner's last words were, "I can't breathe!"
Yesterday, a grand jury on Staten Island gave us the dull surprise of no indictment for the officer who killed Garner. It raises so many questions. Given the fact that a high-quality video of this killing did not yield an indictment, will the expected rise in the use of police body cameras (including in Philadelphia) make a difference? Can a grand jury process run by prosecutors who work hand-in-glove with the cops on the beat ever produce justice when those officers behave unlawfully? When will Americans accept there are two justice systems in the country -- one for the powerful, one for the powerless -- and when will something be done?
One thing is clear: The fallout from the Michael Brown case has led to a lot of hand-wringing by right-wing TV pundits, that we shouldn't fret about police violence because there is no "perfect victim." In the case of Brown, it's OK to call him "a thug" (since he's not alive to defend his reputation) and summary execution for shoplifting is apparently justified. Tamir Rice was a 12-year-old who, in their world, apparently deserved a 2-second death penalty because he took that orange thingee off his air gun.