What does a cop have to do for a grand jury to bring an indictment?
Eric Garner’s death in New York City seemed to be a slam-dunk case. In this one, a New York police officer leapt on the back of an unarmed man, then got him in a chokehold to help subdue him. Because of the deadly nature connected with the chokehold, it is banned by the New York Police Department.
Four more cops joined in to help the officer who still had Garner in a chokehold. Garner screamed, “I can’t breathe.” That was probably a hint that something was going very wrong. Minutes later, Garner, a father of six, was dead.
His alleged crime: selling loose, untaxed cigarettes on the street.
Later, a New York medical examiner ruled that the chokehold caused Garner’s death. Asthma, heart disease and obesity were contributing factors in the death of the 43-year-old Garner, a 6-foot-3, 350-pound man.
Garner never took a swing at the officers, did not battle them for a weapon, and he did not have a weapon.
It was all on video and served up to a shocked public on national news and on social media.
When the grand jury gathered recently, it seems all that had to be determined was what charge or charges would be brought against the police officer. The grand jury met, and guess what? The police officer was not indicted.
How could this happen?
This grand jury decision came just days after the Ferguson grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson, a white police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager.
The officer claimed the black teen initially tried to take his weapon, then the officer ran after Brown and shot him dead when Wilson said Brown turned and charged him. Allegations of racism have been lodged in the case. Many questions also have been raised about how evidence was presented to the grand jury and why the grand jury was even seated in the case.
Back to New York. This one seemed more cut and dry because the incident was there for all to see.
Even a New York newspaper appeared to be surprised by the lack of an indictment. The New York Daily News’ headline read “WE CAN’T BREATHE,” accompanied by a photo showing Garner before he was tackled by the officer.
In a conversation with friends Wednesday, we just shook our heads at the New York grand jury’s decision. One comment was, “So what’s the use of body cameras (on officers) if this is what you’re going to get?” The use of the body cameras to video arrests by officers has been mentioned as a means of getting details that are not available in most arrests or police actions.
The grand jurors watching the video in the New York case must be related to those in the Rodney King beating trial years ago. In that case, a video showed Los Angeles police beating the hell out of an unarmed King. A jury said the officers were innocent.
My friends and I believe that law enforcement officers put their lives at risk every day. We get that and respect them for it. But, they have to be able to use common sense in situations that don’t require deadly force or overly aggressive physical force.
And Lord knows, they must not bring their racial views to the job. But, if you think that some don’t, then you are very naïve. Add to that, there seems to be no deterrent for bad behavior.
The situation is so complicated now that there is no method of submission that some African-Americans feel will work. As one friend with a bad shoulder said, “It’s now left up to the cop. If I am slow to get my left arm up to my head, the officer can beat me or even shoot me, and the camera can be running, and nothing will happen to him.”
All I can do now is tell my grandson that when a cop stops him, do the best you can and pray.
Edward Pratt, a former Advocate editor, is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.