The unacceptable face of policing

lainfo.es-14205-policiamilitarFerguson divided a nation, but Staten Island has united it.

In the shooting for Michael Brown there was enormous room for doubt. In the Staten Island strangulation of Eric Garner, the room is much, much, narrower. Two large, black, men have been killed by law enforcement officers, but there are more differences than similarities.

Brown was suspected of involvement in a violent crime – a suspicion subsequently borne out by video evidence. There were conflicting witness statements, and the fact that Brown was guilty of an earlier assault tends to reinforce the police account and undermine that of his friends. There was never any chance that an objective jury would have convicted the officer in the face of a credible claim of self-defense.

Garner was suspected of involvement in selling cigarettes individually – a tax evasion issue. His size may have been intimidating to police, but he was plainly overweight and, we now know, asthmatic. He was less threatening than Brown. There were also at least five officers involved in restraining him.

While he was on the ground and several officers were holding him down one of them continued to apply a choke hold, even as others applied cuffs. Firing a gun is the work of a moment, but a choke hold is something which must be consciously maintained.

In this case video backed up not the police but their critics. It seems as though the choke hold was maintained even as Garner protested “I can’t breathe”. Why would he die if the choke hold had been lifted while he was still able to speak?

It is impossible to know with any certainty that the officer would have been – or should have been – convicted if the matter had gone to trial. A grand jury hearing does not consider the defense case, only that of the prosecution.

It is possible that a clear explanation from the officer involved combined with strong expert testimony could have persuaded an impartial jury that there was room for reasonable doubt. But this was not the question before the grand jury. The only question these citizens faced was to determine if there was a case to answer.

And there was most certainly a case to answer. A man already being restrained by several police officers was throttled to death on camera. Police officers know the law. Every officer there should have known that, if you kill someone, you should, at the very least, expect to have to answer questions about it. 

A fair trial before an impartial jury with prosecution and defense counsels presenting their cases and cross-examining each other’s witnesses is the very least we should have expected in this case. Conviction beyond reasonable doubt was never a possibility in Ferguson, but it was definitely a possibility in this case.

That a grand jury has concluded there was no case to answer is just not reasonably explicable. It is a travesty and it undermines the entire American system of criminal justice.

Conservative as well as liberal commentators have condemned the grand jury decision because it differs so starkly from the Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin cases. This time the facts were fairly clear and they need to be investigated. 

The system which worked well for George Zimmerman and Darren Wilson has completely failed Eric Garner.

qlQuentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at brandjacknews.com

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