So maybe our scanning mechanism for the city came up short on its reach when we talked last edition about New York’s “cachet” being none too welcoming of cultural traits that just plain reek. In which context we noted the aberrational presence here of two high-flying Republican schmucks who are in no way to be mistaken as representing the classiness we associate with New York chic. Alas, we neglected to consider in the reckoning the most “outer” of the boroughs constituting the New York tapestry, which last week made the loudest discordant noise despoiling of the city’s harmony that we’ve heard in quite a while.
The law enforcement travesty that went down last July on Staten Island, causing Eric Garner’s pointless death, and the due process charade orchestrated by the borough’s district attorney, culminating in last week’s grand jury outrage, will be one of this city’s stains for the ages. An instance of unequivocal rogue behavior by “protect and serve” guys on the Staten Island streets brought about the demise of another black man. And, yes, we do speak in plural terms as far as culpability, it being quite clear from the now iconic video, that not only the chokehold officer, but the others who accosted Garner and ignored his repeated “I can’t breathe” pleas need be held accountable for the loss a family was forced to suffer.
And what does one say of the repugnant utterances emanating from the PBA, in the name of pushback vainly attempting to provide cover for lawless, renegade conduct to which, thanks to that video, we’re all privy? We of course don’t expect the PBA head to acknowledge a member or members having acted outside of established guidelines. But does he, alternatively, have to inflame passions, not only among people of color but in the public at large, with incendiary crap about there having been a “seatbelt maneuver,” not a chokehold? Or spewing an acidic “If you can speak you can breathe” in rebuking a dying man’s cries for help? We have seen the video! And you, sir, should save your mean-spirited hogwash for occasions when manipulating the facts poses less of a challenge.
Such stonewall support from the PBA for a cop whose prior interaction with persons of color should raise a red flag, serves as reminder of the perception of a racism culture within the organization. It’s hardly a secret that it was the “outsider” status to which blacks in the NYPD felt themselves relegated that largely drove formation of their own Guardian Association in the 1940s. All these years later, although there’s been progress made, in terms of the department’s minority numbers at patrolman level, to be more reflective of the city’s ethnic breakdown, clearly no commensurate evolution in the look of the PBA, especially among those in positions of authority, has taken place. Those grossly insensitive comments by the PBA head in the wake of an African American man’s death seem of a piece with the tenor of the organization he leads. I mean, did he really think the apology to Eric Garner’s family, likely drafted by PR folks for the officer, would fly?
As for that grand jury convened by the Staten Island district attorney, one wonders why he didn’t just punt and accede to the voices clamoring for a special prosecutor to handle this glaringly egregious act of police wrongdoing. We would have been loath to imagine the Big Apple or any part thereof providing us today with a classic Southern justice decades ago lookalike. “To Kill a Mockingbird” came to mind, Gregory Peck’s lawyer Atticus Finch defending Brock Peters’ wrongly accused Tom Robinson in the Depression-era South – the poor black man having nary a chance a foregone conclusion. Here in 2014, on Staten Island, they backtracked justice to give it a dark-ages appearance. The prosecutor didn’t request judicial approval for release of more than perfunctory, non-controversial details of the grand jury proceedings, and we wonder about that as well.
Again reminiscent of that other justice model that hasn’t altogether gone away, it seems the Feds will have to weigh in on the Garner case to ensure any possibility of arriving where we have a sense of the right thing being done. Indeed, the vigilance of Attorney General Eric Holder has been the one reassuring component from the justice system, both with Garner and Ferguson, standing as the ultimate buffer between the bulk of us and utter despair.
The PBA head, in his bellowing when just about everyone else was heaping scorn on the grand jury’s no-indictment decision, made it known it was in fact a “correct” determination made by those Staten Island jurors. Maybe he should have noted that included in the backlash over that shocking grand jury conclusion were a number of well-known conservative firebrands – customary friends of the PBA turned foes this time around. That should have given the leader and his flock pause, that maybe in the matter of Eric Garner’s death, a line was crossed.