The System Failed Eric Garner
The Ferguson case seems to have split the country, with a stark racial line dividing those who believe that police officer Darren Wilson legitimately believed he needed to shoot Michael Brown six times in order to protect himself and those who believe that Wilson deserves to be in jail for shooting an unarmed young man. It's possible that the nation will never resolve these two points of view. But it should be pretty easy to come to an agreement in the case of Eric Garner, who died after a New York City police officer used a chokehold, which violates department guidelines, to subdue him during an arrest. The medical examiner says it was the chokehold that killed him. Garner's alleged crime? "The officers involved, part of a plainclothes unit, suspected Mr. Garner of selling loose cigarettes on the street near the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, a complaint among local business owners."
The incident was caught on video, but a grand jury returned no indictment. This should give pause to anyone who hopes that we can prevent excessive use of force by simply requiring police to wear video cameras. In this day and age, police are often now on film when they confront people. Video won't do us any good if the system refuses to punish cops who use excessive force.
Police, like many professionals, exercise considerable power without supervision. That's probably unavoidable, which means that there will always be some abuse in the system -- just as there will always be some doctors who commit malpractice and some journalists who plagiarize or make up stories.
But we can minimize these events, and the way that we minimize them is to ensure swift and certain punishment for people who are caught. The first shocking failure here was the police officer who used a chokehold to subdue a less-than-threatening suspect. The more shocking, and more serious, failure was the system's inability to curtail these events by punishing him.
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