From the New York Times:
A Staten Island grand jury has voted not to bring criminal charges against the white New York City police officer at the center of the Eric Garner case, a person briefed on the matter said Wednesday…
The case exposed lapses in police tactics – chokeholds are banned by the Police Department’s own guidelines – and raised questions about the aggressive policing of minor offenses in a time of historically low crime. The officers, 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.
Mr. Garner’s death hastened an effort to retrain all the department’s patrol officers and brought scrutiny on how officers who violate its rules are disciplined. Officer Pantaleo has been stripped of his gun and badge.
There’s been a great deal of talk lately about the use of body cameras as a way to document and prevent racist police brutality, particularly in the wake of Michael Brown’s murder in Ferguson. I do think that it is a good idea. There are many good ideas about how to prevent racist police brutality, in fact — training officers to rely on non-lethal force with unarmed civilians from the outset of their careers is another one.
But I don’t think it’s the solution, and I think it’s foolish to pretend that body cameras or extra Tasers will solve the problem. By this logic, Eric Garner died in the “right” way — his murder was filmed. So was Tamir Rice’s. The filmed evidence of their murders contradicted at several points claims made by the officers who killed them.
Eric Garner died unarmed. He died on the ground. He died because of an illegal chokehold. We saw it. The grand jury saw it.
They saw it, and we saw it, and collectively we said, “We didn’t see that. That didn’t happen.” And Daniel Panteleo won’t be arrested. He won’t be charged. We saw it happen, and we said that it didn’t happen, and until we solve that problem, body cameras won’t do a bit of good.
If a police officer doesn’t use a gun, he can use his hands to kill or injure someone. If he’s filmed while he does it, he knows the odds are excellent that he will never be charged with a crime (unless he’s black). White people are far less likely to be killed for jaywalking or “resisting arrest” or selling cigarettes or being the suspect in a non-violent crime than their black counterparts. A white man can wander through a public park a gun at passersby and still get taken in alive by police.
The police probably should wear body cameras. It should not be so difficult to get an indictment when an officer has killed someone who was unarmed. We white people, in general, regardless of our jobs, must not be so quick to pretend we are afraid when we are in fact the aggressors, to pretend we feared for our lives in situations where black and brown people lost theirs. Body cameras won’t make one bit of difference until we stop colluding — on every level of society — to protect white people when we kill black men and women. This country, as a whole, needs to do right by black people. We don’t do right. And we look away. And we say we didn’t see what we saw.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.