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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

"The Fact That We Have To Say It.."

The grand jury in New York decided today to not indict the cop who choked Eric Garner to death on a Staten Island sidewalk.  This comes a week after a grand jury decided to not indict the police officer in Ferguson, MO for shooting an unarmed Michael Brown.  This has led to the not-unexpected and not-unfounded outrage in minority communities about their treatment at the hands of police, how people of color are viewed as "problems before people."  Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York has come out and said publicly that "Black Lives Matter."

Here's a little background for those of you that don't know me: my two oldest brothers are now-retired NYPD.  My ex-roommate from about 10 years ago is my oldest brother's former patrol partner and a former member of a community affairs division.  I have no illusions as to how difficult it is to be a police officer, especially in a large city.  But there has to be some kind of way to deal with us that doesn't involve a dead body, especially if there's no threat of physical harm.  I'm willing to concede that the officer in Ferguson testified to there being some kind of immediate threat to his person; not saying I believe it per se, but it's what he said under oath.  Eric Garner posed a threat to no one.  At no point during the video of his chokehold nor the moments leading up to it was he in an aggressive posture, nor was he at all at an advantage.  He was on the ground in seconds gasping that he couldn't breathe.  Did the cop know that Mr. Garner was an asthmatic? Likely not, but should it have mattered?  Why did it escalate so quickly to "choke out?"

Mayor de Blasio had good intentions when he stated that Black lives matter.  His wife is a Black woman with whom he has two children.  But the President's response to that about an hour later is much more on point: The fact that we have to say that says we haven't come as far as we think we have.  So now what we have is a climate in which being "threatening" is enough for a Black man to die, without any concrete definition of what "threatening" is.  The way one dresses?  Walks?  Talks?  The kind of music one listens to?
Size and physique?  The way that the establishment interacts with us has to change, it has to.  We're Americans, and we're supposed to be innocent until proven guilty as opposed to threatening until dead.  The way we interact with the police has to change, because they aren't supposed to be our enemies.  Equal protection under the law, that's what we're promised.

I shouldn't be scared to be Black.  Someone shouldn't have to say my life matters in order to legitimize it in the eyes of law enforcement.  And we should have overcome this 50 years ago.