‘Chokehold’ death: A grand jury blind to the evidence

Eric Garnersource: The Independent
published: 7 December 2014

At least Eric Garner has his epitaph. “I can’t breathe,” he gasped as he was forced to the ground and held by a New York police officer in the chokehold that caused his death. The phrase now serves not only as a chant by demonstrators in cities across the land. It will go down as history’s shorthand for the persecution of black suspects by law enforcement and the judicial system across the US that seems virtually routine.

Anyone – not just black people sick and tired of racist victimisation by police – who has watched the video of Garner, father of six and 43 years old, being wrestled to the ground as if he’d just committed a murder, will be astonished that a grand jury declined to bring any charges against the officer last week – even though the medical examiner at Garner’s autopsy ruled that the death was a homicide.

In fact, Garner, overweight and asthmatic, was suspected of selling loose black market cigarettes (“loosies” as they are known in the trade). Given that taxes have pushed up the price of a packet of 20 to around $12 (£8) in New York City, such petty offences are understandably commonplace. But by any standard the police action was absurdly disproportionate.

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