Thursday, December 04, 2014

The Fix Is In

Cried the Public

   at the apparent outrage of a number of white police officers trying to subdue a large black man (african-american, dark skinned american, whatever term is now descriptive and non-perjorative) in New York on Staten Island with one officer gripping him in a 'choke-hold' while another sat on him as he gasped 'I can't breath' over and over again.

     While it was difficult to believe in the Ferguson matter that a 12 person grand jury reviewing for months facts that made it look like a self-defense or fleeing felon causing danger claim could be valid, in this case, even the most hardened of conservatives are speechless. Its on video. And the only person who is being prosecuted is the videographer! Even the holy trinity of blonde talking heads, Ingram, Kelly and Sustern must be scratching their dark roots going "how do we spin this one!!" John Stewart says tragedy and time makes humor and bemoans "I need more time" to process something so wrong.

  New York is no stranger to questionable police profiling. Only recently have they started amending under Court order the 'stop and frisk' abuses that had many innocent blacks saddled with records for 'walking while black' in the wrong street at the wrong time. Blacks were stopped, rudely questioned and roughed up so the police could make their chits while stunned families saw their family members randomly picked on just to inspire terror it seems in the community. Legal battles (and an iphone recording creating evidence of one smart kid) made people look at it differently and forced change. Perhaps better community policing entails building trust not terror. A new paradigm.

   The recent no-bill return on indictment for the white cop with his tatooed buddies thrusting to the ground with his neck in a vice grip chokehold (a violation of police policy apparently) has more people on the street shouting "I Can't Breathe!" And suddenly it looks like modern day lynch mobs dressed in badges.

   The facebook post that got a lot of attention last night seemed to say it all: "America, You Are Broken." When its open season on black guys standing on the street because they are black guys standing on the street who may or may not be engaging in petty crimes-to be either shot dead, or choked to death or otherwise bullied into an early grave, what kind of country is this? The whole world watches us and shakes their head. How can a people so great, so innovative, so industrious, so creative, not fix this. Where is the political will? Why is this situation tolerated? Who are you people!

   One of my favorite Jesuit priests, Fr. James Martin, who has a family member in law enforcement, penned something poignant worth sharing here that I agree with one thousand percent:

You can support our country's police officers, as I do. I know a few police officers (as well as a former police officers) and I deeply admire them for putting their lives on the lines every day, something that I do not do. (Remember the police officers who sacrificed their lives, or who were ready to sacrifice their lives, on 9/11.) You can believe that the vast majority of law-enforcement officials are trying to do their best in often extremely complicated situations. I see that almost every day in New York. You can appreciate sometimes nearly impossible challenges of dealing with the volatile and dangerous people they must encounter. I see that too almost every day in New York. And you can understand that many of their decisions must be made in a split second, under the kind of pressure that few of us will know.
You can think all those things and still be appalled by the death of Eric Garner, who died after being subdued by police officers on Staten Island. His confrontation with police was captured on video and has been widely viewed:
At the beginning of the video, Mr. Garner seems belligerent. On the other hand he had, according to witnesss, just broken up a fight on the street. He was also under suspicion for selling "loosies," loose cigarettes, which is illegal. But Mr. Garner was also unarmed, and the chokehold or "vascular neck restraint" (or whatever one calls the maneuver shown in the video) and other subduing techniques led to his death. "The compression of his chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police," read the coroner's cause of death. (Chokeholds, by the way, are banned by the NYPD.)
As the video clearly shows, Mr. Garner, on the sidewalk, gasping for breath, chokes out the words, over and over, and calmly, "I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe." And then he dies.
You can admire police officers and still admit that they made a tragic mistake. You can support the justice system and still feel that justice has not been done . You can uphold the rule of law and still feel that the law is not being applied justly.
And if Mr. Garner had indeed just broken up a fight--being a peacemaker, as Jesus calls us to be--then it is an even more brutal tragedy.
I'm not a police officer, so I don't know what that life is like. I'm not an African-American, so I don't know what that life is like either.
But when a man says, "I can't breathe," you should let him breathe. And if he dies after saying it, then you should have let him breathe.


No comments: