Transcript, Web links and Credits below.
No single case in modern American history shows just how hard justice is to come by for Black families impacted by police violence than the brutal public lynching of Eric Garner. Yesterday, the officer responsible for this murder was fired, which isn’t justice. It’s barely even in the ballpark of justice. Still, police unions are furious, white police officers all over the department are outraged, and donors have now given over $100,000 to support the officer who murdered Eric Garner. I think it’s all a metaphor for exactly where we are as a country right now.
Let’s dig in.
This is Shaun King and you are listening to (The Breakdown)!
Over 5 years ago, on July 17, 2014, on a hot summer day in Staten Island, in New York, NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo brutally murdered Eric Garner, a beloved son, husband, father, grandfather — and did so in broad daylight, while being filmed, surrounded by eyewitnesses.
Yesterday, after five years of deliberate delays, Officer Daniel Pantaleo was finally fired from the force. Now that’s not justice. Pantaleo literally should have been fired the day this happened, or at least the week or month this happened. And that should have been step one for the family of Eric Garner.
Because here’s what I know, and it hasn’t gotten talked about much, but officers get fired from the NYPD every single month. Hundreds of officers get fired every year. And when they get fired, it’s rarely for something that happened five years ago or even five months ago. Officers routinely get fired for something that happened five weeks ago. That’s what policies are for.
And so we regularly see officers lose their jobs for lying about overtime, for falsifying paperwork, and for a long list of offenses, but the NYPD just could not bring themselves to do this. And yesterday, during two different press conferences, we really learned why.
First, NYPD Police Commissioner James O’Neill had a press conference where he eventually announced his decision to fire Pantaleo, but before he made the announcement, he gave about 15 minutes of excuses for why the decision was still hard for him. And, on the one hand, it wasn’t a surprise. But it was still disgusting to hear him say much of what he had to say.
Let me play a clip from his announcement. It’s one of those “both sides” type of moments as if what Eric Garner did and what Pantaleo did were somehow equal.
Over and over again, he blamed the entire encounter on Eric Garner, on him selling a single cigarette to a man, on him having asthma, on him resisting arrest. But the truth is that police were called to that corner not because Eric sold a man a cigarette, but because a fight had broken out there — and Eric Garner was actually the peacemaker who broke it up. Police Commissioner O’Neill left that out.
He left out that Eric Garner had already filed multiple complaints against the NYPD for their harassment of him — including one humiliating complaint where they strip searched him, making him take off his pants and underwear in public, just to degrade him. O’Neill left that out. He left out how Eric was unarmed, non-violent, and never said a single curse word or raised his voice in the entire encounter.
Eric didn’t cause this. The NYPD caused this — with their desire to confront and arrest a man who had literally just broken up a fight. He had literally just helped the community, but, because the NYPD refused to see that, they treated him like a criminal anyway.
I was furious to hear not just all of the excuses that the commissioner made, but he said one single line that stuck out for me that I just can’t get past. Commissioner O’Neill said that if he was just an everyday police officer on the force, instead of the boss, that he would be mad that Daniel Pantaleo was being fired.
And that’s very telling, because Daniel Pantaleo clearly violated policy. How can you be mad when an officer who violated a policy gets fired? You can be mad when you think the rules don’t actually apply to you. You can be mad when you think you are only an enforcer of the rules, not someone who has to abide by them yourself.
There’s a quote that I think is most appropriate here.
It’s, “When you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”
And NYPD officers are so accustomed to privilege, particularly white NYPD officers, that when a family gets an ever-so-tiny little sliver of justice — five years after they should’ve gotten it, five years after their loved one was murdered — the NYPD still thinks they are being oppressed becuase they didn’t get away with violating a policy, on camera, that got a man killed. Just a little bit of justice makes them feel wronged.
And nobody showed that more yesterday than NYPD Union boss Pat Lynch, one of the most evil leaders in America, who got on the mic yesterday, and never even mentioned the losses of the Garner family, never mentioned that a man was murdered, that that man’s daughter died pursuing justice for her father. He just got on the mic, full of rage, and anger, and contempt that one of his officers wasn’t able to violate the rules — murder someone — and still keep his job.
Let me play you a clip from this moment.
And I thought yesterday was a painful metaphor for where we are as a country right now. A Black man is dead. His daughter his dead. It was an open and shut case. And we barely got a tiny sliver of justice, five years too late, and it still set people off.
This is why we needed to say Black Lives Matter in the first place. Because the system, from top to bottom, treats Black lives like they don’t matter — and when it shows just a little bit of value to Black folk, white folk in power can’t handle it.
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