By CLAY WADENA
“Every time you see me you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. It stops today! I’m minding my business, please just leave me alone.”
— Eric Garner, Rest In Power, killed by NYPD July 17, 2014.
Eric Garner’s last words ring with righteous anger, disgust, desperation, and fatigue. Garner spoke for generations of Black and Brown people who have been subjected to America’s constant surveillance, intimidation, harassment, and brutality.
Ramsey Orta, explaining why he recorded the video of Garner’s death at the hands of the NYPD, said at a recent rally: “I watched that man [Garner] get harassed by police for four years and I had to do something.” Now, a New York coroner has validated what any honest individual saw when they viewed the video: Garner was killed by a chokehold (an illegal technique for police to use since 1993 in New York). The Staten Island man, a father of six children, had been targeted by cops for allegedly selling untaxed single cigarettes on the street.
Garner’s family is understandably calling for charges to be filed against the officer who murdered him, Daniel Pantaleo, an officer with a history of abuse that includes strip-searching and assaulting people during illegal car stops in broad daylight (which led the city to settle out of court for $30,000).
Perhaps to make America’s judicial system seem just, mainstream headlines all prominently noted that Officer Pantaleo had his gun and badge “stripped” from him over his murder of Garner, as if that would be enough, or as if Pantaleo isn’t on paid administrative “desk duty” (he is).
In a further indictment of the horrible conditions faced by so many, it was revealed that emergency response personnel did not help Garner when they arrived. Instead, they stood by with police as he died. This has resulted in the suspension of four emergency response workers without pay (note that their punishment is worse than what Officer Pantaleo received).
In typical fashion, some articles attempted a smear job, noting Garner’s arrest history, or the criminal charges faced by Ramsey Orta. This is a common tactic of the mass incarceration era—to designate someone a criminal and then deny them their human rights.
Mayor Bill de Blasio jumped into damage control quickly, trying to back up his campaigning as a friend and ally of those harassed and brutalized by police. De Blasio postponed his Italy vacation for a day, issued statements that angered the police union, and in general was not such an openly rabid supporter of police brutality as former New York mayors Giuliani or Bloomberg.
Even the notorious chief of police, William Bratton, got into the act and stated that he anticipates that the entire 35,000-member police force will be retrained, and that when it is complete, New York City will have “state of the art” training. Problem solved, right?
Don’t be fooled. These hacks believe in a robust police and surveillance presence; they just prefer for it to appear a tad friendlier. When de Blasio appointed William Bratton as police chief, it was a clear indication that de Blasio had no intention of really changing the NYPD. Among other things, Bratton is fully committed to the “Broken Windows” style of policing, which focuses on small quality-of-life offenses to reduce crime overall.
“My neighborhood is like it’s under martial law,” said Angel Garcia, 34, of East Harlem (quoted in the New York Daily News, Aug. 4, 2014). Whatever the policing style is called—stop-and-frisk, Broken Windows, quality of life offenses—it all boils down to Garcia’s eloquent appraisal of the lived experience: “martial law.” It means constant harassment, assault, and even murder at the hands of NYPD, no matter what it’s called.
When the de Blasio administration was confronted by recent analysis by the Daily News that showed the racist nature of Broken Windows policing (81% of the 7.1 million people hit with petty infractions were African American or Latino), the mayor showed he has no intention of backing away. His spokeman, Phil Walzak ,responded that “Mayor de Blasio believes a number of the policing innovations created by the NYPD over the past two decades, including … a focus on quality-of-life offenses, have contributed to New York City becoming the safest big city in the nation.”
He added that de Blasio is “committed to employing strategies and making adjustments that build a spirit of cooperation and trust between the police and the communities they serve.” While ending Broken Windows policing, which de Blasio and Bratton are so committed to, would be a victory, it is highly likely that the policy would reappear in another form without a strong mass movement to enforce accountability.
On that note, a protest march has been announced by Garner’s family and the Rev. Al Sharpton for Aug. 23 across the Verrazano Bridge (as of press time, the details are not yet published). Any public expression of resistance to police brutality is worth attending, as it will take a broad mass movement in the streets to truly begin to change the debate and force meaningful change around police and the prison system.
We fight for important reforms in policing and prisons, while acknowledging that the tendency of current American capitalism, with its large number of surplus workers, will be towards brutal policing and mass incarceration. End police brutality! End mass incarceration! No justice, no peace!
Photo: July 22 march to 120th precinct police station in New York City demands justice for Eric Garner. John Minchillo / AP