A Camera Did Not Hold Police Accountable In The Eric Garner Case

After the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, I supported the idea of body-mounted cameras for police officers. But yesterday we found out that even video evidence was not enough to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner in New York City. So, I guess cameras won’t make a difference after all. What would make a difference is if people adopted a less lethal mindset, and I’m especially talking to conservatives here. How many people need to die to placate your desire for authoritarian obedience? Because you need to take a step back, and then another, and well, at least one more, and analyze the situation for what it is, not for what you might like it to be. Eric Garner was breaking the law, selling cigarettes illegally to avoid taxes. Even if he was resisting officers, he wasn’t charging or looking to start a fight. From a physical standpoint, he was entirely on defense, and from a verbal standpoint, he was just plain obstinate. And for many law and order types, you know, people who have no problem with the punishment far outweighing the crime, the fact that Garner was not obeying a person in a position of authority is justification enough for the final outcome, his death. No, of course they won’t say they wished to see him die, but their argument is that he got what was coming to him, because if he had simply obeyed the police, he would still be alive. And in a simplified worldview, that might be true, but do the police not have any culpability here? Shouldn’t the escalation of a situation, and the tactics used to diffuse it, be based on the merits of the crime that is being committed? The police are given the power that they are given in society means it falls on them to not escalate beyond the situation at hand. Had Garner committed a more serious crime, maybe the use of force that led to his death could be justified. But for selling some cigarettes illegally? I don’t think so. But even with video evidence, the grand jury didn’t believe it was worth pursuing. As I said in my previous article, it’s incredibly hard to indict police officers, even using evidence that would easily lead to the indictment of mere civilians.

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  • Steve

    Two things:
    First, I too have heard this idea of “that’s what you get when you don’t obey the police,” but I don’t get how you can say that and then sit back and be satisfied with that – even if that’s how you really feel, and even if that’s the way it should be. Do these people like the idea of living in a draconian police state where the slightest twitch or wrong move could give you a death sentence? It’s as if they’re saying “haha, welcome to an Orwellian dystopia where lack of perfect obedience results in lethal retaliation – just the kind of place I’m happy to be in.”
    Secondly, I completely disagree with your premise that this latest case means cameras on police won’t work. If you mean it won’t necessarily result in any more police being held accountable, that may be true, but it’s impossible to say anything with any level of certainty based on such a small sample size, but more importantly, the fact that police know they’re being filmed will always have some affect on their behavior, even if it’s a small one. If nothing else, because it’s potentially embarrassing to be seen overreacting by your boss or colleagues. And it’s human nature for each officer to have in the back of his mind that the video of THIS incident they’re currently in could end up being the one they make an example out of, etc. And if nothing else, it at least gives innocent people a way to prove their innocence, which is more and more necessary these days. It’s also nice to see them squirm when the idea of “if you aren’t doing anything wrong you’ve got nothing to hide” is turned on them.

    • I actually completely agree. My “premise,” of course, was based on cynicism stemming from the inability of the grand jury (likely due to the way the case was presented) to say there is merit for a trial (we aren’t talking about innocence or guilt) based on the video evidence that we have all seen.