This is another anecdotal example of why a growing perception of unaccountability exists for government actors generally, and particularly for law enforcement officials. A Staten Island grand jury today opted not to indict New York Police Department Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner, a man who was confronted by city police for selling cigarettes, apparently illegally.
This case also speaks to why so many people, rightly or wrongly, are skeptical of the validity and credibility of the Ferguson grand jury’s refusal to indict former officer Darren Wilson. As I have mentioned previously, we will never know entirely and empirically what happened in Ferguson and that likely informed the grand jury’s decision there more than anything in that specific case, but there is absolutely no excuse for this grand jury’s failure to indict Officer Daniel Panteleo (and the other officers present and involved), given the very clear video evidence available. Even the medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide, citing “compression of the neck and chest” and Garner’s “positioning on the ground” when being arrested by the multiple officers.
Short of some astronomically game-changing information/evidence that is not generally available to the public, I can see nothing in this case that mitigates the video evidence. If similar circumstances had transpired between two (or more) civilians, you can bet that the survivor would be charged with manslaughter at the very least. As President Obama stated in response to the indictment decision, “When anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law, that’s a problem. It’s incumbent on all of us as Americans …that we recognize that this is an American problem and not just a black problem. It is an American problem when anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law.” That is not just true of peoples of different races, but is also true with respect to equal protection from and prosecution of the law for both private individuals and members of the state alike.
All this for the victimless, nonviolent “crime” of selling cigarettes. Perhaps there should be a Surgeon General’s warning label affixed to police officers.