Thursday, December 4, 2014

One New Yorker's Reaction to the Eric Garner Case

This is a rant. You have been warned.

When I was a four or five-year-old, my (white, Irish-American) father used to tell me to duck if we were in the car and a police car drove by. This is not a normal reaction to cops. In kindergarten, we were asked to draw "our heroes." The other kids drew firemen and policemen. I drew the gas station attendant. My dad has never been a person who trusted the police--shades of the Irish dislike of authority here, despite so many Irish-Americans being policemen--and so, I ducked in the car.


As an adult, that childhood training has created a fairly wary young woman when it comes to police officers. Yes, what they do is often heroic and admirable and tarring them all because of a few mistakes or bad eggs is wrong. But it was pointed out to me in high school that New York City has (or had, at the time) a police force large enough to qualify as the fifth largest army in the world. Why?

I didn't write anything about Ferguson because, to be honest, I hadn't been following the case all too closely and I don't want to say anything when I feel uninformed. But yesterday, as many of you may know, a grand jury on Staten Island declined to indict a police officer who used a chokehold on a man named Eric Garner, thus killing him in broad daylight, on the street in front of witnesses, including one who taped the whole incident.

The tape was shown on the news here in New York when the murder happened. Staten Island may be like the bastard stepchild of New York City, but technically, it is part of the city and thus, this is close to home.

Eric Garner was accused of selling untaxed cigarettes, six cops surrounded him and hassled him, Garner put his hands up and stepped away and then whomp, those cops took him down. One of them jumped on Garner's back and used a chokehold--which is banned by the New York City Police Department. Garner gasped that he couldn't breathe ll times--he was an asthmatic.

I'm an asthmatic. Of course, it's highly unlikely that I'll ever be in that situation. I'm a law-abiding type, but I'm also petite, female, white-looking, young-looking, and generally dress like a drab. But I also don't trust cops and if one of them ever tries to arrest me, damn right I'm going to try to get out of it.

Someone on Facebook said that the chokehold isn't a crime under state statutes. The coroner ruled the death a homicide; the chokehold killed Eric Garner. When is murder not a crime, dude?

Two may be a coincidence, but three or more is a pattern. When you have cases like Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner close together, with the same damn result, something has to change.

Yes, we have a troubling racial past. And yes, we have those who are completely blind to the idea that we have deep-seated race issues in this country--or those who like to pretend that they are color-blind, but still whisper the word "black" when talking about black people. Or those who feel that there isn't a problem at all, that minorities are just being whiny and they should just shut up about racism because hey, there's reverse racism, too! (White people who don't get it make me cringe sometimes).

I may not be stopped by a cop because I'm walking around after dark wearing a hoodie, but I know people who may be. Why? Because they're in the wrong neighborhood. Because they're the wrong color. Because they were acting "suspicious." Because cops, too, are people, with the biases and societal programming that we're all brought up with. Only they're given cuffs and guns.

I'm not really sure how to end this rant because, frankly, there is no resolution to such a large matter. Keep talking about it, tweeting about it, writing about it, protesting peacefully? What else can we do?  It's ridiculous that we have to say that Black Lives Matter--that Hispanic Lives Matter, Asian Lives Matter, Native American Lives Matter, Mixed Race Peoples' Lives Matter, White People Lives Matter. But apparently, it needs to be said.

7 comments:

  1. I read a little about this the other day but didn't see where it happened. I stopped reading because I just found it highly disturbing. I don't know if it's because I really never saw racism growing or if people have just regressed, but yeah, we shouldn't have to say "insert race here" lives matter. We're people. All of our lives matter.

    I was at work a couple of weeks ago at a different location I don't normally work out and some white guy got super paranoid over this Indian guy. I was horrified when the Indian guy came in and told me the white guy was writing down his license plate number! I'm thinking about it I guess because I have to go down there again today. Some people want credit for not being racist against black people but then they're racist over "foreigners." They're still racist!

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    1. Yeah, I wasn't sure how the story was covered outside of New York. And yeah, some people seem totally not racist and then they turn around and say something off about someone based on their race or their looks or their ethnicity.

      That's crazy about the guy taking down the other one's license plate number!

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  2. You know, I hadn't realized until you mentioned it, but I was afraid of cops when I was a child and to a certain extent still am. The fact that children can have a negative association with them speaks volumes, especially with the current events.

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    1. Yeah, cops just don't make me feel relaxed and comfortable, put it that way.

      We've had protests in the city the last three days, with tons of cops doing crowd control and closing down streets as the protestors move around though and there haven't been too many incidents.

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  3. I think society is way past the racist mark. I think what's going on anymore is that we at the physical level have overcome racism, but we still have a few bad apples. What we are experiencing in the world today is the media sensationalism and executives who are vying for ratings at the expense of opening emotional scars from the past.

    They don't realize how much this divisive narrative is affecting our local towns and even if they do, I think they just don't care. The ratings and all keep them thirsty and the only way they know that the narrative is working is to see the explosions on the streets in our local neighborhoods.

    I think the media should be held liable for practicing journalism in a way that harms the public...if it is determined that that is indeed what is happening, and I think it is because I see more racist BS divisive tactics in media than I've experienced racism in the form of jokes, innuendos, discriminatory bias in any form, etc, that we'd experienced in the 70s or 80s. That's sad.

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    1. I don't think we are past the racist mark, which is the sad thing. I agree that media and media portrayals are what helps program and condition us, but would full-grown adults would ape those views without holding some of those views themselves? I've heard quite a few nice, white, suburban people say things that make me cringe when it comes to other ethnicities or other races.

      Maybe it's the advent of cable that makes the media more able to express certain views and tactics?

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    2. Who knows, but you're right, people still say and do things that make me cringe as well, but then I mostly witness more ignorance than racist views. Like, "where you from?" I hate that, but I think it's more stupidity and low class ignorance and so I ignore it mostly because it's not that person's fault they are less educated, they weren't taught any better and they may never function outside their realm of existence. How sad is that?

      If racism were embers suffocating underneath a mound of ash (signs of progress), I blame the media for kicking that pile of ash and fanning those embers.

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Thank you so much for your comments and thoughts. Check back soon. I reply to all comments. Happy reading!