The Eric Garner Killing – Crime or Happenstance?

Having given lots of time and thought to the Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown incidents, now I am trying to get my arms around the death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD. Unlike the first two cases, it seems that many conservatives (Fox News, for example) are criticizing the decision of the NY grand jury not to indict the officer. As for me, I think I need to see what was disclosed to the grand jury if they release the information.

The first question you might ask yourself is why did the Garner incident escalate to a physical take down when he was only being arrested for selling unlicensed “loose” cigarettes. First of all, Garner had been arrested 31 times previously, many of these arrests being for the same offense. It is my understanding that store owners had been complaining about him disrupting their own businesses by his activity. In addition, the city has sent its officers to enforce this minor activity because it is losing tax revenue. If you are going to criticize the officers, you need to criticize the city as well for its aggressive tax revenue enforcement.

Secondly, the tape reveals that Garner was refusing to cooperate with the officers in any way, shape or form. It was his feeling that he was being a victim of harassment, and he was fed up with it. It seems to me that the officers were justified in making an albeit minor arrest. He refused to allow himself to be handcuffed.

Eric GarnerBut did he deserve to die? Of course not. That leads us to the choke hold. I should say at this point that in my own law enforcement career of 27 years, I never applied a choke hold nor was I ever trained to apply one. I understand there are different varieties of choke holds. In New York, the PD is not allowed to use the technique though it is not actually illegal.

Here is the video of the encounter resulting in the take down. It appears to me that after the second time Garner says he can’t breathe, the choke hold has been released. He reportedly said it 11 times. I could hear 8, but at one point an officer is in front of the camera, which might explain why the last three times are not audible.

Here is a further video of Garner after he was unconscious. The message of those who posted this is that Garner was never given any cpr in an attempt to get him breathing again. Yet, the video shows that Garner was still breathing when placed on the stretcher and put into the ambulance. The officers were monitoring his pulse. A female paramedic arrives, checks his pulse, and tries to talk to him. She confirms to the officers that Garner is still breathing. When a bystander asks why no cpr, an officer informs him that Garner was still breathing.

So what was it that actually caused Garner’s death? According to news reports, he had several medical issues including hypertension, and diabetes. Was it the pressure of having several officers on top of him? Did the choke hold cause a fatal neck injury according to the autopsy?

And the racial angle? There was a black female officer at the scene who was actually the supervisor. I think the racial aspect is being overblown.

Before I come to a final conclusion on this, I want to see what was presented to the grand jury.

If there is one positive aspect to this, New York once again shows it is no Ferguson. The city has a long tradition of peaceful protests and the NYPD is quite experienced in crowd control. Of course I say all this knocking on wood. But I absolutely condemn the remarks made by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who basically threw his cops under the bus and told the non-white people of New York (including his own bi-racial son) that they should fear their police. This at the same time that the police where out on the streets controlling the protesters.  It was shameful.

One final note: Is it just me, or is the fatal shooting of a 12-year-old boy who was waving a pellet gun by Cleveland police flying under the radar?

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

About the author

Gary Fouse

Born 1945 in Los Angeles. Currently employed since 1998 as adjunct teacher at University of California at Irvine Ext. teaching English as a second language.
Education: BS in Police Science and Administration California State University at Los Angeles (1970)
Master of Education at University of Virginia (1993)
Served three years in US Army Military Police Corps at Erlangen, Germany 1966-68.
1970-1973- Criminal Investigator with US Customs
1973-1995 Criminal Investigator with Drug Enforcement Administration. Stationed in Los Angeles, Bangkok, Milan, Italy, Pittsburgh and Office of Training, FBI Academy, Quantico, Va until retirement.
Author of Erlangen-An American's History of a German Town-University Press of America 2005
The Story of Papiamentu-A Study in Slavery and Language, University Press of America, 2002
The Languages of the Former Soviet Republics-Their History and Development, University Press of America, 2000

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