Thoughts on the Killing of Eric Garner

 

About five years ago I worked in a group home with ten developmentally disabled adults. That kind of human services field requires some training, because without meaning to, people, human beings, who often can’t care for themselves, can be accidentally killed by the staff.

The folks I worked with all had, and this is the technical term, profound mental retardation. It took different forms in different people, and some of the people I worked with had behaviors. So each resident had an individualized behavioral support plan. Something along the lines of “If they do this behavior X, you should do Y.” And the responses to a behavior always started with the least invasive and worked towards the most invasive.

We went through a training called SCIP, Strategies in Crisis Intervention and Prevention, which was mandated by the State of New York. It was a week long training, some of it in a classroom, and some of it in a room with mats on the floor. Put simply, SCIP teaches you how to take somebody down, when necessary, without killing them. It’s very easy to accidentally kill a person with developmental disabilities without meaning to. (In fact, the SCIP that I took was SCIP-R, R for revised, because it was modified based on the potential for accidental strangulation.)

The most simple thing was the one-person escort, where you guide someone out of a room. The final and most invasive thing was a full body wrap when you end up with your arms around a person, basically spooning them on the floor (thus, the mats). This is necessary because sometimes a resident could potentially be a danger to themselves or others.

In my personal experience, other than training, I never had to do anything like that. I never went further than the one-person escort. Why? Because most of SCIP was focused on the non-physical aspects. We were taught how to de-escalate a situation. Every situation is different, but I would have considered it a failure on my part if I ever had to SCIP (we used it as a verb) any of my guys. I wouldn’t have let it get that far.

And so we come to the killing of Eric Garner. I watched the video of this and it really bothered me. I realize that a police situation is different from a group home, but I also realize that not every police situation is the North Hollywood Shootout. That situation didn’t need to get physical.

If I done that in the group home to a resident, taken a person down like that, and put them in a choke hold, I would be in jail right now. Rightly so. The difference is that I was working in a culture where getting physical was the last resort. The NYPD is clearly a culture where non-compliance seems to be immediately met with physical violence. A week or two later, NYPD cops put a pregnant lady in a choke hold for cooking on the sidewalk. And the cops know that even when there’s video that they can get away with it. The incentive structure favors the cops getting physical right away, because as any child knows (until someone tells them not to) it’s a lot quicker and easier to hit someone to get your message across than to talk to them.

Maybe they couldn’t have talked Eric Garner down, but he was pleading with the cops before they wrestled him to the ground and choked him to death. He didn’t have a gun. He didn’t have a knife. He was just talking. It didn’t have to go down that way.

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  1. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    Like.

    • #1
  2. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Good points all. I’m surprised, though perhaps should not be as it now happened over 20 years ago, that no one is bringing up comparisons with Rodney King. King was high out of his mind and had led the police on a bit of a chase – that was a situation already escalated. This was not such a situation. There was no series (that I am aware of anyway) of escalating issues.

    • #2
  3. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    Years ago I saw a guy in the park get arrested (minor drugs, I think). Anyway, the guy was visibly upset and the officers spent 15-20 minutes trying to calm him down before they cuffed him and took him away.

    Every situation is different but it is pretty clear that in the Garner case the police did not choose the best way to proceed.

    • #3
  4. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Well put, Fred.

    • #4
  5. user_554634 Moderator
    user_554634
    @MikeRapkoch

    Right there with you Fred. Garner probably wasn’t a racial thing. But it does appear to be a macho thing. I have similar feelings about the Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin cases. The real problem may be in the attitude of many police officers that it is sissy stuff to avoid confrontation. George Zimmermann was told by a police dispatcher to not follow Martin. Zimmermann ignored those instructions. That looks, at the very least, like negligence.

    • #5
  6. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    < devil’s advocate mode = on >

    I have not seen an unedited version of the video, and there are gaps in what the video I have seen shows.

    At no point in the video do I see the police saying, “you are under arrest”.

    Did this happen before the bystander started recording? Did it happen during the time where the edit occurs?

    It’s a big unanswered question for me. It’s certainly possible that the answer has already been reported and I simply missed it.

    If they never said he was under arrest, then how can it be claimed that he was resisting arrest?

    If they did say he was under arrest, then I can see an argument for using force, even though the amount of force used appears to be excessive in the video.

    < devil’s advocate mode = off >

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3ZOu__nVHg

    • #6
  7. Petty Boozswha Inactive
    Petty Boozswha
    @PettyBoozswha

    I think I agree with the thrust of this post, but let me at least expound on the alternative argument. I lived in NYC during the darkest days of it’s existence – the pre-Giuliani days when the Blue Social Model ruled. I loved New York but finally had to leave, one of the final straws was watching a Transit Cop in the subway whining and wheedling with a filth-encrusted vagrant trying to get him out of the path of commuters. If I could post a picture of the obnoxious smirk on the vagrant’s face it would make this point, it expressed everything you need to know about who knew he had the power in their relationship. Don’t think these power relationships aren’t instantly known by every bad guy in the city, the election of de Blasio has set back the quality of life [I am told] within days of his taking office, in regards to panhandling, vagrancy on the subways, etc. If the bad guys don’t know the cops have the backing of the political elite and the vast majority of the public when they are trying to enforce the law on a public street it will create anarchy.

    • #7
  8. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Fred Cole: IThe difference is that I was working in a culture where getting physical was the last resort.

    This should be standard training for police.

    The other thing that needs to happen is better training for police departments in how to handle schizophrenics.

    I read a great story years ago about two women who were going around the country talking to police departments: one woman’s son was a schizophrenic who had been killed by a police officer; the other woman’s son was a police officer who had been killed by a schizophrenic.

    • #8
  9. user_234000 Member
    user_234000
    @

    Thank you for this post, Fred: well put.

    • #9
  10. Spin Inactive
    Spin
    @Spin

    I’m inclined to think that in our rush to holler “This isn’t about race!” we are unable to accept that it was still wrong.

    • #10
  11. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Okay, I’ll admit I’m too chicken to watch the video. But from everything I’ve heard about it, it’s very disturbing.

    I’d just like to be clear on something. Did it appear that Garner was “choked to death” while he was saying, “I can’t breath,” or is it possible the police sitting on him were suffocating him by compressing his already compromised lungs? If the latter is possible, I’d like us not to use the “choked to death,” “death by choke hold” meme, just for the sake of accuracy. He could have died by asphyxiation without having been “choked.”

    Otherwise, I think you’re right, Fred. The arrest could have been handled in a way that didn’t result in Garner’s death. This case is much more troubling than the Michael Brown incident.

    • #11
  12. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    The NYPD is clearly a culture where non-compliance seems to be immediately met with physical violence.

    Just the NYPD or law enforcement more generally? If the latter, then we really have a problem in this nation. We are all breaking laws all the time because there are so many, and no human being can know and comply with them all. If the state wants to arrest you they can find a reason. If they decide to find a reason then resistance is futile at best, deadly at worst…even for the most trivial of “crimes.”

    • #12
  13. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Garner was not choked to death. With or without italics.

    • #13
  14. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    I don’t agree for several reasons:

    1) I don’t buy the assumption that “getting physical” is the first resort of police. The opposite seems to be the norm. Watch the video of the drunk Travis County DA being questioned by the cops over her drunk driving. WAYYY too long of a conversation between the cops and her. She refused over and over to do as told, and the cops were way too patient with her. If I were a cop, after the second time she refused, the cuffs would have been out.

    2) Resisting arrest is resisting arrest. Pulling away, flailing your hands around, telling cops not to touch you, pushing their hands away…is resisting arrest. Eric Gardner wasn’t passive. He refused to be cuffed.

    3) The job of the cops is precisely that: to en-force. If they tell you that you’re under arrest, then you do as you’re told. Doesn’t matter if you think you did nothing wrong. The street isn’t a courtroom. If you refuse, they have to…force you. They have that authority.

    It seems to me from the video that the cops were talking to him for quite a long time. Force wasn’t the first resort. They seemed to have been arguing with him for a while, and the whole time he was un-cooperative.

    Now in my younger days I have had quite a few run-ins in cops. I’ve even been arrested once (minor traffic violation which resulted in a trivial fine, so nothing serious). Cop says get out of the car…you do it. You’re not going to win an argument, because the street isn’t the courtroom. So no point in arguing. Cop says put your hands behind your back…you do it. At that point, there are no other options left.

    Cop drives you to a judge…you argue your case there in front of him. (I did, and got away with it).

    • #14
  15. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    The problem isn’t the cops. The problem is that too many people seem to think that the appropriate place to hold court is in…the street.

    That’s flagrant disregard for the law, flagrant disregard for law enforcement.

    It’s a general childish mentality that thinks that by repeating over and over “I did nothing wrong! I did nothing wrong!”, that is going to change anyone’s mind.

    Of course, this case is purely race-bating. Had Eric Gardner been a white man, no one here would have ever heard of him, or of this case.

    • #15
  16. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Fred Cole:…..Maybe they couldn’t have talked Eric Garner down, but he was pleading with the cops before they wrestled him to the ground and choked him to death. He didn’t have a gun. He didn’t have a knife. He was just talking. It didn’t have to go down that way.

    No, he wasn’t pleading with them before they took him down. He was telling them that he wasn’t going to comply. He was basically saying “go away and leave me alone”. As much as Garner may have wanted that to be a legitimate response – it wasn’t.

    And violence wasn’t the first response. They had talked to him long enough for back up and a supervisor to arrive on scene.

    Don’t mistake irritation with the underlying law with justification for refusing to obey that law and then refusing to peacefully comply with the duly authorized officers of the law.

    In our system there are legitimate and civil ways to make your case and maybe even get compensated for damages. Resisting the lawful commands of a police officer are none of those ways.

    • #16
  17. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Ed G.: And violence wasn’t the first response. They had talked to him long enough for back up and a supervisor to arrive on scene.

    Yep! The video starts off right before the incident. But clearly the cops had been there a long time, and waited for backup.

    Force was anything but the first response.

    • #17
  18. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Western Chauvinist:…..Otherwise, I think you’re right, Fred. The arrest could have been handled in a way that didn’t result in Garner’s death. …..

    Agreed, WC. Garner could have complied peacefully and then made his case via the peaceful, legitimate, and civil means that are available to him and all of us. Otherwise, what are the other ways the cops could have handled this that carried no risk of Garner’s death?

    • #18
  19. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Ed G.: Otherwise, what are the other ways the cops could have handled this that carried no risk of Garner’s death?

    They could have let him go, cause he “wasn’t doin’ nothing wrong!”

    • #19
  20. Carol Member
    Carol
    @

    I have read that the conversation went on for 15 minutes before they tried to cuff him. and they didn’t “choke him to death” – he was talking after the cop released him. He had asthma, and they speculate that the stress triggered an attack.

    I think a valid question, though, is why the AA woman sergeant , who was on the scene, didn’t intervene. He may have been more willing to listen to her.

    • #20
  21. user_280840 Member
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    AIG: That’s flagrant disregard for the law, flagrant disregard for law enforcement.

    I don’t know about other places, but in New York state, police officers are peace officers. The whole point is to preserve the public peace, not to choke into submission (or to death) everyone who doesn’t comply.

    • #21
  22. user_280840 Member
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Basil Fawlty:Garner was not choked to death.With or without italics.

    Excuse me, but the word “choke” means

    : to cause (someone) to stop breathing by squeezing the throat

    According to the coroner, Eric Garner died from compression of the neck. So, yes, I’m sorry, but they most certainly did choke him to death.

    • #22
  23. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Fred Cole: I don’t know about other places, but in New York state, police officers are peace officers. The whole point is to preserve the public peace, not to choke into submission (or to death) everyone who doesn’t comply.

    And Kalashnikov just re-named their AK-47 as the “weapon of peace”.

    Same logic.

    • #23
  24. user_48342 Member
    user_48342
    @JosephEagar

    Fred Cole:

    Basil Fawlty:Garner was not choked to death.With or without italics.

    Excuse me, but the word “choke” means

    According to the coroner, Eric Garner died from compression of the neck. So, yes, I’m sorry, but they most certainly did choke him to death.

    Most of the accounts I’ve read have Garner dying from either asthma or something called “positional asphyxia” that can happen to overweight people. I don’t think it’s fair to say he died of choking.

    That said, arresting a man for selling cigarettes is ridiculous. Someone on NRO today suggested that cases like this should use a simple court summoning.

    • #24
  25. user_48342 Member
    user_48342
    @JosephEagar

    By the way, is anyone else reminded of the English Bloody Code? Except instead of punishing too many people with the death penalty, we’re applying lesser (but still disproportionately severe) punishments to minor “infractions”?

    • #25
  26. Barfly Member
    Barfly
    @Barfly

    Splitting hairs, but it seems much more likely that Mr. Garner was killed by chest compression not choking. According to the BBC the coroner’s report says “compression of neck (chokehold), compression of chest and prone positioning during restraint.”

    A lot of the “chokehold” chatter runs counter to common sense. The little bit of video I’ve managed to find shows the policeman restraining Mr. Garner by the neck. That’s not choking, as anyone trained in restraint should know.

    This article in The Federalist suggests an explanation that jibes with my (very limited) experience. Short version – Mr. Garner’s chest was compressed as he lay on the ground, by a policeman and/or by his own weight, to the point where he suffered cardiac arrest.

    I do not believe any of the evidence, including the video, supports the statement that “they did most certainly choke him to death.” That statement is irresponsible.

    • #26
  27. Barfly Member
    Barfly
    @Barfly

    That’s not to excuse the police in this incident. The videos (there’s a 2nd one now) do seem to indicate callous disregard for Mr. Garner’s life on behalf of the police. I assume Staten Island cops are trained in emergency first aid and CPR, yet we don’t see anyone giving aid.

    The ambulance didn’t arrive for several minutes. Was Mr. Garner breathing during that time? If not, did any policeman attempt to aid him? Can any of the Ricochet legal team say whether that level of disregard could be prosecuted? (No, lawyers, that won’t get you any respect. Stop asking.)

    • #27
  28. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Joseph Eagar:

    Fred Cole:

    Basil Fawlty:Garner was not choked to death.With or without italics.

    Excuse me, but the word “choke” means

    According to the coroner, Eric Garner died from compression of the neck. So, yes, I’m sorry, but they most certainly did choke him to death.

    Most of the accounts I’ve read have Garner dying from either asthma or something called “positional asphyxia” that can happen to overweight people. I don’t think it’s fair to say he died of choking.

    That said, arresting a man for selling cigarettes is ridiculous. Someone on NRO today suggested that cases like this should use a simple court summoning.

    I think it would be fair to say that the Corner determined that the cause of death was human induced, which is why it was declared a homicide. So I don’t think there is away of saying that the officers did not induce this mans death. Their actions clearly lead to his death. The question of what legal ramifications they should face for this is a separate matter.

    • #28
  29. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Barfly:

    This article in The Federalist suggests an explanation that jibes with my (very limited) experience. Short version – Mr. Garner’s chest was compressed as he lay on the ground, by a policeman and/or by his own weight, to the point where he suffered cardiac arrest.

    “His own weight”? that seems a tad generous to the police. I have never heard of a fat man unable to breath because of his own weight. I was watching CNN earlier today and they had a doctor on explaining the medical aspect of this. His opinion was that that simple chest compression could have prevented Mr. Garner from breathing. So having several officers put their full weight on him was probably what did him in. Though the choke in the first part of the video probably didn’t help him much either.

    • #29
  30. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Valiuth: So having several officers put their full weight on him was probably what did him in.

    Resisting arrest…did him in.

    If you’re going to force the cops to force themselves on you, there’s always the possibility of injury or death.

    So don’t.

    • #30

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