The Deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner; What It Has Done to This Country

I have a list that I keep close by that I add names of victims or case on so that I can go back and do the research on them to blog about them.  Often times when I search the name I do not recall what the case is about, such was the case a few minutes ago.  I picked a name off my list, Mary Hawkes and when I searched I remembered it was a case where a young woman was murder by the police.  Of course with all the media lately it made me think of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases.  The difference here obviously is that Mary was a woman and she was white.  However, I realized that I had not sat down and really discussed these cases and that being the author of a true crime blog and seemingly choosing, even if not consciously, to ignore these cases was not proper.  The only real reason that I have "bulked" them together is mainly because the media has.  I have, for the most part, left my opinion about these cases off of social media and really have only discussed them with my husband while we would watch the news.  Why? Maybe because it is generally something people feel strongly about and causes more drama than I cared to deal with. Maybe it is because for the most part I generally look at a case by the law.  Maybe it is because just like many other cases that are out there the information is skewed. I am also doing this one differently. Generally as I said I have a list of cases and then I research them, get the fact from the fiction and then I write my blog. I am not doing that this time.  This time I am just going to wing it. This also means that I will be doing it based on what I have seen and heard and understood, without deep research.  That is no to say that I am ignorant of the cases and as I do in other cases, I will state things that I am uncertain about that may have affected my opinion.

I understand that in these cases it is difficult, if not impossible to take race issues out of the equation.  I think that is likely why I have avoided these cases.  I try to look at everything as gray, since the words black and white would not be suffice.  It always deeply angers me when the media not only mentions the race of someone but when they conduct polls telling me what people think based on their race.  I remember during the O.J. Simpson trial how the media told us that the majority of black people thought he was innocent while the majority of white people thought he was guilty.  Well, I thought neither way completely. I believed that he had the murder of his ex wife, Nichole done, but did not directly do it. I also believe that he allowed it to in attempt look as if he had but he was confident he would get off if he was tried.  I remember most of my friends thinking the same thing... friends of many different colors. The other thing I found interesting about that poll was that O.J. Simpson was obviously black but he had not been supportive of or embraced by the black community in many years.  He had lived in a mostly white, upper community and had not been seen with a woman of color in many years.  I remember seeing a documentary recently that even stated that before they gave jurors a tour of his home the defense had it redecorated with things of African American culture and pictures of black people, both of which he did not have.  But yet the media is going to tell us what we think based on our skin color.  What does that do other than incite hate??

As I said above the only real reason that I have bulked these two cases together is because the media has based on the closeness in time of the announcements of failure to indict the white police officers involved and the protests that resulted.  However, I have different views on these cases. That is not to say that I believe either of these men should have died or that I agree with either side.

I will start with the case of Eric Garner simply because for me it is a much more cut and dry case.  According to the NYPD on July 14, 2014 Eric Garner was on the sidewalk illegally selling cigarettes when they approached him. Garner claimed he was not selling cigarettes and protested that the police were and had been harassing him.  Garner did have a record for several arrests but he was working with the Civil Liberties Union with them.  He was currently out on bail for supposedly selling what the police call "loosies."  What this meant was he sold loose cigarettes on the street.  According to witnesses there had been a fight on the street just prior to the officers approaching Garner and he had broken it up.  Then the officers approached him.  His friend was off to the side video taping the entire confrontation.  Officer Daniel Pantaleo attempted to hand cuff Garner, a very large and tall man, and Garner resisted, still protesting verbally that he had not done anything wrong and asking them to please leave him alone.  At this point Pantaleo began to administer a choke hold on Garner to subdue him.  Several times Garner, who suffered from asthma, stated "I can't breathe" which in the aftermath has become a well known phrase.  By the time Pantaleo and the other officers with him were done, Garner was unconscious.  They rolled him to his back but say they did not provide any CPR as according to them he was still breathing.  For the next several minutes while Garner lay on the sidewalk they waited for an ambulance.  Two paramedics and two EMT's arrived on the scene but none of them provided CPR, nor was immediate care given.  Garner was pronounced DOA at the hospital.  The initial story that the NYPD sent out was that Garner had a heart attack in the ambulance on the way to the hospital in which that is what caused his death.  The coroner felt differently.  He ruled that the death was caused by the choke hold and ruled his death as a homicide.  A grand jury was convened to determine if Daniel Pantaleo's actions caused the death of Garner but on December 3, 2014 they voted to not indict Pantaleo.  This came on the heels of a ruling in Ferguson, Missouri where another officer (story below) was not indicted for the death of a young man.

Eric Garner's case was the more easier one.  First it was video taped, secondly there was no clear evidence that Garner had for sure done anything wrong.  It was also quickly announced that Garner was unarmed and that the tactics used by Pantaleo were forbidden by NYPD policy.  The death of 18 year old Michael Brown Jr. on August 9, 2014, in Ferguson Missouri was not so clear cut. Initial reports were simple... that Michael Brown had been approached by an officer, that he was unarmed, and that he was surrendering with his hands up when the officer fired several times, hitting Brown at least six times.  Immediately the area was swarmed by officers from all over the area, as well as witnesses.  Michael Brown was obviously dead and while an investigation was required one of the biggest contention with people in the area was that they allowed his body, reportedly uncovered to remain in the street for nearly four hours. Ferguson police did not immediately name the officer involved in the shooting.  In fact, they refused to do so for several days. However, on the very day that they announced the name of the officer involved, Darren Wilson, they also, almost simultaneously released a video showing Michael Brown in a convenient store just prior to the altercation with Wilson stealing cigars and shoving the store clerk.  This was seen as a deflection tactic by the Ferguson police department because still at this point the reports state that again, an unarmed Michael Brown, was surrendering to the officer when he was shot. On November 24, 2014 a grand jury voted not to indict Darren Wilson.  According to the local DA the incident did not occur as first reported.  The reports about Brown having his hands up and surrendering were brought into question when supposed witnesses changed stories (although admittedly we were not told why), and a previous unknown fact that there had been an altercation between Brown and Wilson in Wilson's police car played a large role in their decision.

I am going to stop at this point in my retelling of the stories as I have done. If you will notice, when retelling both of these stories not once did I mention the race of any of those involved. While that was on purpose in attempts to keep race out of the equation and simply state the facts, the fact is, that these two crimes have become all about race and has nearly divided this country. The officers involved, Daniel Pantaleo and Darren Wilson were both white while both Eric Garner and Michael Brown were African American men.  

As I have said repeatedly, the Eric Garner case is an easier one, and I have a clear cut opinion on that case.  In the case of Michael Brown, I have to say I am torn.  Not that either of these men should have ever lost their lives, but in the Brown case so many stories have been told that it is hard to weed out the fact from the fiction.  But, let's first start again with the Eric Garner case....

Obviously the video tape helped immensely.  You can clearly see that Garner, while yes, arguing with police, is not endangering the lives of the officers on the scene.  The crime in which he was accused of is petty in nature.  To be honest, I did not even know it was a crime.  Heck, as a smoker, you are often approached when walking places or when you have stepped outside somewhere by someone 'bumming' a cigarette, why not make some money?  Granted, this was on a public street, but again, there is no clear cut evidence that Garner was doing as the officers claimed.  Also, the main officer involved, Daniel Pantaleo, apparently has had several lawsuits brought against him for civil right violations.  I read that one involved him making two African American men strip naked on the street for a search.  That aside it was made very clear that the tactic used by Pantaleo was forbidden by NYPD policy and yet he was not immediately disciplined.  In fact, he was not put on any kind of leave or desk duty until after the coroner ruled Garner's death a homicide.  At the very least it was painfully clear by the video that was immediately released that he had gone against policy in using the choke hold.  Why was he not disciplined in some way immediately for that? Eventually he, and another officer were given desk duty until the grand jury made a decision, and presumably he has resumed his duties now that they have ruled, but I cannot be certain.  The two paramedics and two EMT workers were also disciplined for their actions (or non-actions).  Many argue that Garner should have just not resisted arrest and let the system deal with it.  Really?  The same system that allowed this officer to use this forbidden tactic without repercussion?   The same system who then later, despite the coroner's ruling of homicide refused to bring charges against the officer and have a court decide his fate?  That system?  Those officers and apparently the EMT's involved were all about covering their butts.  Obviously there was little defense in using the choke hold, but it has been reported that they did not really think he was having an issue with breathing, simply because he could say he could not breathe.  Yes, read that again, since he said "I can't breathe," he obviously could. Then there came the story that said he died on the way to the hospital after experiencing a heart attack.  Apparently in their minds that answer would have cleared them.  In my opinion, even if it was a heart attack that killed him, the trauma he had just faced caused that.... but that is just my opinion.  Protests against the failure to indict in New York have been for the most part peaceful as I can tell, unlike those in Missouri. Although in the last few weeks tensions in New York have become worse.  Recently, two officers were killed sitting in their patrol car by a man who reportedly announced on Facebook that he was going to "put wings on pigs" in retaliation to the Garner and Brown deaths.  The NYPD have demonstrated that they feel the mayor is not supporting them in the way that he should and is giving more sympathy to the protesters than to them.  In fact, although admonished by the police commissioner for their actions, at one of the officer's funerals the officer's turned their backs as the mayor spoke.  The man who killed those officers has surely not helped the situation what so ever by killing those officers.

Now, as far as the Michael Brown case... wow, this one is way different and the reactions are just as different.  First, while most of the country could not have told you where Ferguson Missouri was prior to August 2014 there were already apparent race issues going on there.  The area is predominately African American and yet the police force is all white.  That does not mean that all of the officers there are bad cops by any means, but again, race plays a role here and must be noted.  Many of the citizens felt they were unjustly harassed even prior to this incident so tension was already iffy.  I will say that unlike Office Pantaleo in the Garner case, apparently Officer Darren Wilson did not have any issues or disciplinary actions prior to this.  Within a few days of Michael Browns death there were riots in Ferguson, and they were not friendly ones.  However, it should be pointed out that according to the media a vast majority of the problem makers in these riots were not even from Ferguson.  People were going there from all over the country.  The riots became worse after the ruling from the grand jury with many businesses being looted as well as many being burnt to the ground. Again, wasn't that nice of all the outsiders to not only go in and tear up someone else's town but also make the entire town look bad? I mean when it was all over and settled people around the country only see the people of Ferguson as people who destroyed their own town and for the most part that is not even true. But, my biggest problem with this case is with all the shadiness involved.  I mean I am not sure anyone will ever truly know what happened.  There have been too many different stories from the police, media and supposed witnesses.  One of the first things to truly hurt this case was when the police department decided to release the video from the convenient store at the same time they released the name of Darren Wilson.  There were also differing reports as to whether Wilson knew about the robbery prior to his altercation with Brown.  First reports stated that he either did not know about the robbery or he did not have a description of the suspect and then later it was reported that he had the information on both.  It gives the department a look of dishonesty so you are left not sure what to believe.  It was not reported for several weeks that the altercation started between Brown and Wilson inside Wilson's patrol car and that a shot was fired inside there.  And, it was not until after the grand jury decided not to indict Wilson that the department released pictures of injuries that Wilson supposedly suffered in that altercation.  I say "supposedly" for a few reasons.  The first is because of the lateness of the release of the pictures. Secondly, in my opinion, while there were injuries shown in the pictures they looked minor compared to what the supposed diagnosis of injuries were.  With everything else that had been done by that point, again it gives the department less credence.  

By and large, in my opinion the media has played the largest role when it comes to damage to this country regarding these cases.  In the Garner case, there is a video, that was shown repeatedly.  Why do we need to be told that it was a white officer and a black man?  Can we not see that already?  In the Brown case, it seems they were so intent on getting the story out that they did not do enough investigating before getting the story out.  As stated before initial reports from witnesses stated that Brown had his hands up when Officer Wilson shot him.  The DA claimed after the grand jury decision that those witnesses changed their stories, indicating that either they had not seen it first hand and were going by reports, or simply stated an untruth.  Many would argue that those witnesses were intimidated to change their story.  Is that true? I do not know.  Is it possible? Yes.  But, as a society we often hear the first story, we never hear the retractions.  So the fact that Brown held his hands up as he was being shot is still by and large accepted by people.  In fact, several football players entered their field holding their hands up in solidarity for this case, after the grand jury decision.  

Now the problems are becoming too many people are scared to talk about it when in reality that is exactly what people need to do.  People are trying to distance themselves from these issues and by doing so they are either causing more issues and attention or they are simply sweeping it under the carpet.  I saw an article recently that a high school basketball team had warm up shirts that simply said "I Can't Breathe" written on them.  They were informed that unless they agreed not to wear them to an upcoming tournament they were no longer invited.  All but one of the boys agreed and he will sit out, however, in the same respect he is fighting for his First Amendment Rights.  I think probably the saddest part of the article was the fact that there were people who had heard about the shirts but did not know the significance.  That happens when you live under a rock! These situations can be a learning tool for everyone... but instead we are taking sides in a way that the media and society in general believe it is based on race and make race the issue.  Instead how about we make truth, honesty, and integrity issues.  Let's work on the issues instead of ignoring them or making them worse. 

Comments

  1. I should have added.. and rather than editing I will do so here... That I support Michael Brown's family in their quest to ensure police officers are equipped with body cams so that many of these questions are not asked again. However, we are then left with a few issues. First the Eric Garner case was video taped with few results. Secondly, there have already been cases of officers who were wearing the cams turning them off or stating they were not functioning at crucial times. In the same respects reports from some departments that do wear them already claim that accusations of police misconduct as well as issues of resisting and police violence are down

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