The grand jury for Staten Island did not return a true bill of indictment against Officer Pantaleo. We do not know how if there was dissension in the vote such as was it a close decision or it the prosecutors had influenced the jury’s thinking. All we know is that the jury, as a whole failed to find Officer Pantaleo criminally negligent, meaning that the officer knew that there was a substantial risk the Garner would have died as a result of the use of the chokehold. Supposedly the police department had banned the use of chokeholds sometime prior to Pantaleo’s use of it. In hindsight Officer Pantaleo will have knowledge that the use of such a chokehold does cause substantial risk of death.
But there is a deeper question that has not been resolved. According to Garner’s past history, he had been arrested and charged with the selling of ‘loose’ untaxed cigarettes many times. This was the crime from which the police were protecting the community. Of course the cost to the citizenry in prosecuting this crime was far more than the loss of a few pennies in revenue. If one is going to engage in community policing, then one does not go after misdemeanors, one tackles the muggings, the robberies, the murders. It is this pattern of harassment that shows intent in the minds of the arresting officers. True, if Garner had not resisted arrest he would not be dead. But the greater fault is with the police for if they had not been insistent on harassing Garner the man would not be dead. This is a simple cause and effect type of case. The intent was to harass a citizen. The attempted arrest was in no way justified and more than likely a jury might well return a verdict of guilty if these officers were tried for civil rights violations. They should, at least, be fired with cause.
Where Michael Brown had committed a strong arm robbery, remember that while the value of the merchandise was trivial it is the physical threat or force used that makes it a felony, Brown further escalated his troubles by assaulting the police officer and attempting to take the officer’s weapon. Brown made himself a dangerous individual upon whom physical restraint up to and including death could be used. We may fault Officer Wilson in the final seconds for the use of a firearm that the officer knew could kill Brown, but in the heat of such a conflict cool thinking is unknown. In two or three seconds it is very difficult to make decisions that might preclude another man’s death. Michael Brown’s life didn’t matter because he made it that way by his behavior.
But Garner’s death was the result not so much of his obesity and asthma or the chokehold, it was the result of a premeditated conspiracy for harassment by the three police officers. This is the troubling part that Mayor De Blasio must recognize and find solutions to eliminate such behavior in his police department. Perhaps the problem lies with that zero tolerance mentality of authorities. The idea that society cannot tolerate the least bit of criminality and misdemeanor behavior within its circles is a bit absurd. Pass ten thousand laws and one is bound to break at least one a day if not more. But engaging in behavior that while one does not overtly consider biased but is, in essence, violations of a citizen’s civil rights cannot be excused by claiming ignorance. It cannot be excused because one has always acted that way and thought it was lawful behavior. Never examining one’s behavior to see if one would tolerate that same behavior from others is not an excuse, it is a failure of morality. We may cite Mr Garner for failing to act morally and adhere to the tax laws of the state and city, but we should hold our police to a higher standard, for their behavior must match their authority. That is the point on which the grand jury should have returned a true bill of indictment. Officer Pantaleo should have known that the use of that chokehold held the possibility of death for the recipient. He knows now but that’s not say much. Garner’s crime was tax evasion. We don’t kill a man for his failure to pay his taxes, that Officer Pantaleo should have known.