Eric Garner

Let us call a spade a spade.

Here, in the United States, a police officer can kill a black man without fear of serious legal repercussion.  Be the man unarmed, unthreatening, even if there are cameras rolling, a cop can kill him and walk away.

There are two problems here.  The first is that cops have too much latitude to kill people.  Being a cop is dangerous and important work, and so we, the people they serve and protect, have extended to them credit against our lives.  We have given them the benefit of the doubt, and granted them dramatically expanded rights of self-defense.  We have given them license, when vulnerable or afraid, to protect themselves and each other, with the weapons we suffer them to carry.

They have abused that privilege.  They, or some too-great number of them, kill with impunity.  That is outrageous, and it needs to stop.  Cops should not be allowed to shoot unarmed men.  Cops should not be allowed to taze non-cooperative people to death.  Cops should not be allowed to choke the life out of a man, ever.

This does not mean that police should forbear while people shoot at them.  If a cop believes that someone is about to pull a weapon on him, let him shoot.  But, if he is wrong, and there is no weapon, then let him stand for murder.  Don’t let him enjoy the protection of his fellow officers then, or the complicity of the prosecutors.  And if these police killings are the work of a few bad apples, then let their brothers in blue police them.  At the very, very least, the killing of an unarmed person should result in the automatic loss of a badge.  Cops are citizens among citizens – let them enjoy no more protections than we.

The second problem is that the black community has disproportionately borne the weight of these injustices.  This should surprise no one: the black community has been made to bear the weight of many, many injustices.

In this case, the problem is not only that blacks come under undue and undeserved pressure from the criminal justice system, but also that abuses of power which victimize blacks are less likely to be punished, less likely to be treated by the community as the outrages that they are.

The black community must contend with a police force that can harass, assault, incarcerate, and murder them – their ability to make meaningful protest is hampered by the danger the police pose to them.

The white community tsk-tsks and fails to indict – we have voted less with our feet than with our essential apathy.

And it must be apathy, for there is no excuse for disbelief.  True, people tend to believe the evidence of their eyes, and the white community, particularly the white community with power, has a different relationship with the police than the black community.  If I were going only by my own experience, I would have to conclude that the police in the United States are merely an armed concierge service.  But they are not.  And, given the overwhelming evidence, historical and contemporary, it would be absurd to doubt that the American government and populace are capable of systematically disenfranchising, terrorizing, or brutalizing black Americans.

There are self-interested reasons to care: if the police can trample on their rights, then they can trample on your’s.

But, more than that, the fact that people don’t look like you, the fact that their misfortune does not happen to be your’s, does not excuse you for turning a blind eye to a wrong done to them.

The police may not value black lives as much as white lives, but we should.  What would you do if Eric Garner had been white?  Would your outrage be the same?  Or would it be easier to imagine then that the next person killed might be your neighbor, or son, or husband?  Or you?  What would you do, if you really believed that the reality that strangled him might reach out and touch you next?  Would you remark how sad it all was, and then turn off the T.V.?  I don’t think so.

Image taken from Time.com.

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