When is a police choke hold recorded on video that result in the death of a man not a choke hold? When the president of the New York Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA) says it’s not. At least that’s what New York City PBA honcho Patrick Lynch wants the public to believe. In the aftermath of the brutal choking of an African-American male, Eric Garner, and his subsequent death, all captured on a bystander’s cell phone video; the city’s police union is up in arms that the public is demanding the officers involved face criminal charges. By the way, Ramsey Orta, the bystander, was conveniently arrested this week on an alleged weapons charge.
According to Lynch, Garner was not the victim of a chokehold, an illegal restraint according to NYPD policy, but what the public really witnessed on video was police “bringing a person to the ground the way we're trained to do to place him under arrest." If Lynch had said “bringing a Black person to the ground” he might have been more credible given the way Blacks are routinely violated by police.
While it is a common practice for the blue fraternity to close ranks, the attempt by Lynch to flatly deny what is evident in the now infamous video footage is a new low for a police brutality apologist. The union leader went from the curb to the gutter when he suggested the rank and file was offended by the public’s outrage and hinted police might engage in a work slowdown. Though I have come to expect police to defend their own no matter the extent of the wrong, Lynch’s audacity is textbook arrogance. His annoyance represents the disdain of many in law enforcement toward Black men and why Eric Garner’s death is simply the cost of doing police work for many in blue.
If there is one lesson learned from the brutal beating of Rodney King in Simi Valley is that video footage of excessive force by police is in the eye of the beholder. And when the beholder is wearing a uniform, it is the public’s imagination that is said to conjure up the illusion. Yet, in all of these ‘imaginary’ incidences of police violence there are real victims and real graves. In most of these incidents the victims are Black, male and the color of the officer is inconsequential as “blue” is the defining characteristic of the offender.
The recent determination by the Medical Examiner that Eric Garner’s death was caused by a “choke hold” should prompt charges against Officer Daniel Pantaleo and the officers who were on the scene. Despite the official conclusion of the Medical Examiner the PBA’s Lynch is contesting the finding, claiming chokehold is not a ‘medical’ term. He is right because the ME should have simply said Garner was killed by asphyxiation resulting from an illegal restraint by Officer Pantaleo. We do need to watch language here and be clear that Eric Garner was killed, literally lynched for the high crime of being Black.
If Lynch’s attitude is the posture of rank and file officers in the New York City Police Department the public has a right to be skeptical and have little confidence in the force. It should be no mystery why African-Americans have so little faith in the police. We have seen too many Eric Garners to entertain Lynch’s insanity. It is only when officers who engage in violence against innocent civilians are tried, convicted and jailed that Black people can see police as agents of law and order. It is sad but very true. The idea that we should simply accept police brutality is foolish and dangerous. Individuals who are supposedly trained to protect and serve must be held to a much higher standard. Police have often used the defense that the dangerous nature of the occupation warrants exceptions for rogue behavior. No, there can be no exceptions and no excuses allowed. Police are not above the law.
The District Attorney needs to charge Officer Pantaleo with the murder of Eric Garner and the assisting officers with manslaughter. The U.S. Department of Justice should launch a federal investigation into the violation of Eric Garner’s civil rights now that the Medical Examiner has determined the cause of death. The public needs to remain outraged and engage in civil disobedience until the officers are formally charged and remain vigilant as this case unfolds.
As for Patrick Lynch, he should audition the next time the circus touches down at Madison Square Garden. The folks under the Big Top will certainly know a good clown when they see one.