Eric Garner was a husband, a father of six, grandfather of two and a loved member of a community. On July 17, 2014, his life was ended by a NYPD officer’s chokehold, which has been explicitly banned as a restraint tactic for years before former officer Francis Livoti choked and killed young Anthony Baez in 1994. Every aspect of this incident should be troubling to our city and its leadership. He was unarmed and non-threatening prior to being choked and tackled. After watching the video evidence, we can see a situation that shouldn’t have happened as it did. Unfortunately, NYPD brutality is all too commonplace—what should have been a routine police encounter turned into fatal one because an individual questioned the treatment he was receiving. This occurs everyday in Black communities across New York City and often we don’t hear about them because the injuries don’t always result in death. These kind of violent acts by the NYPD are seen as routine parts of living under a militarized police department that will respond with zero-tolerance to any perceived “disobedience.” This is the reality we face daily by police who are paid to protect and serve our communities.
Often when the police brutalize or kill a Black person, they along with the media attempt to criminalize the individual and make unfounded accusations to support their violence. And in this case, Garner’s family has maintained that he had no cigarettes on himself or in his car and prior to his death he was breaking up a fight. Despite that the NYPD will attempt to use his “resisting” arrest as the cause for his death, which was clearly caused by the violent, unprovoked chokehold by an officer and subsequent pinning to the ground by several others. When law enforcement leadership promotes the idea that any African male who questions or resists police orders is a violent threat, an unnecessary level of force is the standard response and this sort of fatal result can be expected.
We live in a city where discriminatory and violent policing has become an international spectacle and those of us who have experienced it often become sensitive to police harassment. And recently police commissioner Bratton ordered extra officers to many areas of the city he believes are trouble spots while several incidents of abusive policing have occurred in the past few weeks. This is a police force that attempts to change its tactics without changing its philosophy.
The NY People’s Self Defense Campaign of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and other organizations have been involved in the struggle against abusive policing for many years and we condemn this tragic loss of life. And our community’s struggle to specifically address the use of chokeholds dates back to the NYPD’s killing of Arthur Miller in Crown Heights in 1978. The organizing efforts led by the Black United Front (BUF) resulted in the Arthur Miller Community patrol in he 77th precinct area. BUF met with the police commissioner and demanded an end to the use of the chokehold.
The ‘broken windows’ philosophy of policing, which purports that focusing resources on the most minor violations will somehow prevent larger ones, has consistently resulted in our rights being violated. We demand the criminal indictment and termination of the officers who unnecessarily attacked and killed Eric Garner. We also demand that the NYPD to end the era of broken windows and militarized policing which has brought tragedy and mistrust of the police to many of our communities. We send our deepest condolences to the family of Eric Garner and support their struggle for justice in this case.