Friday, December 05, 2014

The Death of Eric Garner

Last evening in my MCCC Logic class I finished the final teaching section, on applying logic to ethical theories and judicial/legal reasoning. I presented, as an example, the case of the death of Eric Garner.

Many of my students had seen the video of the police taking Garner down. I asked them the question, "What do you see in this video?" I wanted them to simply report what they saw without adding an interpretation. They responded:

"A chokehold (one student said it looked like a wrestling "submission" hold) was placed on Garner."

"Garner was taken down."

"A police officer pressed Garner's head against the ground."

"I heard Garner say the words 'I can't breathe'."

Why was Garner accosted by the police?

"He was said to have been selling cigarettes illegally." Yes, this is a crime (if this was happening), but it's a nonviolent crime. Garner appears to be verbally resisting arrest, but he was not resisting arrest violently, as the video shows. He does not appear to be threatening the police officer; the officer does not appear to be in physical danger.

Garner died. The cause? From the nytimes: "An autopsy by the city’s medical examiner found that Mr. Garner’s death was a homicide resulting from the chokehold — a maneuver banned by the Police Department in 1993 — and the compression of his chest by police officers." Note: New York City guidelines say chokeholds are forbidden, and yet in this case a chokehold was used.

Stop here and consider this logic:

1. It is against the law for a NY police officer to use a chokehold. (Here is the law, which reads: "Members of the New York City Police Department will NOT use chokeholds. A chokehold shall include, but is not limited to, any pressure to the throat or windpipe, which may prevent or hinder breathing or reduce intake of air.")
2. The police officer used a chokehold.
3. Therefore the police officer violated the law. (Which also reads, in CAPITAL LETTERS: "EXCESSIVE FORCE WILL NOT BE TOLERATED.")

The case went to a Grand Jury. 

No one was indicted for the death of Eric Garner.

This is unbelievable. If this were my son I would be outraged and heartbroken. Wouldn't you? Wouldn't you think that justice has not been served? Wouldn't you rise up and protest and appeal? I cannot watch this video and read the medical reports and look at the 1993 law banning the chokehold maneuver and feel otherwise. As Beth Moore said“There is no unseeing what we have seen. No unhearing what we have heard. No more claiming we didn’t know. We rise loudly for what is right.”

Al Mohler (President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) states the bigger issue as he writes: "many people among us, including many African American followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, are asking very deep and pressing questions about whether or not the American justice system is fair and not only fair in a general sense, but fair quite specifically, to African Americans.”