‘Criminals in the Uniform’ and the ‘Disposability of Black Life’
After a second night of massive protests in New York City against a grand jury’s failure to indict NYPD officers in the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner, “Democracy Now!” hosts an explosive roundtable discussion on police racism against black Americans.
In the above segment from Thursday’s show, Vince Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, argues that the grand jury system that was used to determine whether officers should be indicted in the cases of Garner and Michael Brown (another black American male who was recently killed by a white cop) is biased against indicting officers. Prosecutors are appointed specifically for the task of securing an indictment, he contends, but they typically have relationships with the departments they investigate, and rather than present a concise case designed to convince the jury, they are free to be as sloppy, disorganized and general in their presentation as they like.
“Everybody knows that you can indict a ham sandwich if you do it right,” Warren said. “And everybody knows — real talk — everybody knows that police protect their own. Everybody knows that police officers will lie to protect their own. Everybody knows that the goal of policing is to not get caught doing a criminal act.”
In the segments from Friday’s show below, three “Democracy Now!” guests respond to the grand jury’s decision not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who put Garner in the apparent chokehold that city medical examiners concluded contributed to his subsequent fatal heart attack. The first clip shows footage from the street protests, which were attended by thousands of demonstrators, some of whom are interviewed.
New York Daily News columnist Harry Siegel, who wrote a Dec. 3 article called “The lonesome death of Eric Garner: When men are treated like pieces of meat by cops and medics, trust erode,” describes what happened in a second, less-discussed video in the Garner case. The video shows Garner lying unconscious after Pantaleo and others tackled him to the ground.
Siegel also describes another, less-publicized police killing of a black, 28-year-old Brooklyn man named Akai Gurley. The father of a 2-year-old, Gurley was killed Nov. 20 in his housing project when he opened a stairwell door to a police officer who had his gun drawn. Instead of calling 911 to get an ambulance to the scene, the cops reportedly texted their union representatives.
Retired NYPD Detective Graham Weatherspoon, also a black man, describes the behavior of the officers involved in all of the cases discussed as “reckless.” Mychal Denzel Smith, a fellow at The Nation Institute who wrote a Dec. 3 article for The Nation Magazine titled “The System That Failed Eric Garner and Michael Brown Cannot Be Reformed,” says the group is “dancing around” the real topic, which he called “the disposability of black life.
“You have a racist and unjust system,” Smith explains. “You have racist and unjust laws. Your law enforcement then has no choice but to be racist and unjust. That’s built into the fabric of what the police do.
“This is the thing,” he continues. “We foment social decay and then say, ‘Police, go fix it.’ You know, like this is the problem here. We are over-reliant on the police. And I understand the sentiment of people living in the housing projects. I mean, I’ve talked to kids who have watched their friends die, and they’re like, ‘Well, the police aren’t doing anything, and it feels like they’re leaving it up to us to get street justice,’ right? So that then leads to retaliation and more murder. So, it would be nice if the police were solving these homicides in these black communities. But if we’re directing so much energy to patrolling, to little things like loitering, like, you know, public drunkenness — so-called quality-of-life things — then we’re directing resources away from the very serious things that people actually have complaints about and trying to fix real social ills with the police instead of investment in communities.”
Weatherspoon returns to the issue of biased prosecutors and punctuates Smith’s remarks, saying, “We need to understand police officers theoretically are public servants, but that’s not what’s happening here. That’s not what’s happening. We need an independent examiner of these cases, who is not related to anybody in New York City in any way. They come in. They pull together all of the facts of the case — and I should not say ‘the facts’ — the truth regarding the case, because facts and truth are two different things, because there are police officers who are errant. I have sent police officers to prison during my tenure as a detective. I had no problem doing it. Why? Because they weren’t police officers; they were criminals in the uniform.”
The last segment deals with the Cleveland police killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. Rice was holding a toy guy when officers shot him from a distance of 10 feet within seconds of emerging from their cruiser.
— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.Wait, before you go…
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