Reasonable people can disagree about the lack of indictment in the shooting death of Michael Brown. While Brown’s death at the hands of a policeman in Ferguson, Missouri, was tragic, the physical evidence and eyewitnesses pointed to a more complicated situation than originally reported. Brown shouldn’t be dead today, but nor was he a totally innocent victim.
Based on what we currently know, the same can’t be said about a killing in Staten Island, New York, this summer. Video evidence, non-existent in the Brown case, shows 43-year-old Eric Garner upset at being questioned by police officers for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes, but the unarmed man makes no violent or aggressive gestures or threats. Instead, two officers initiated the contact that resulted in Garner’s death — which a medical examiner deemed a homicide, apparently by a chokehold forbidden by New York Police Department policy. After being wrestled to the sidewalk by at least four cops, Garner could be heard repeating, “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” but the officers did not let up. You can watch one video account below — but be please advised the images are disturbing.
Yet, this afternoon, a grand jury decided not to indict the officer depicted in the video with his arm around Garner’s neck. Daniel Pantaleo could have faced charges ranging from murder to manslaughter. Now he won’t.
Unlike in Ferguson, where the evidence and witness testimony in part supported officer Darren Wilson’s claim he was acting in self-defense, this lack of an indictment is very hard to square with any common notion of justice.
Perhaps other evidence presented to the Staten Island grand jury will reveal something we don’t know now. But the video evidence alone makes it difficult to imagine what that mitigating evidence possibly could have been.