The politicians of New York, and the majority of voters who elected them into office, believe that smoking is wrong and should be discouraged. They also believe that smokers will smoke less if cigarettes cost more. Thus, New York taxes on a pack of cigarettes total $5.95. Those looking to make money illegally in the underground cigarette market buy cigarettes in another state, drive them into New York, and sell the packs or “Loosies” (individual cigarettes) without paying New York taxes. Local business owners had called the police to complain about Mr. Garner, who was allegedly selling Loosies.
The arrest of Mr. Garner was captured on video. A few policemen begin speaking with Eric Garner, and Mr. Garner is heard saying that he was not selling Loosies and was doing nothing wrong. As Mr. Garner continues to tell policemen to leave him alone, more policemen come and they tell him to put his hands behind his back. An officer tries to grab Mr. Garner’s arm, and Mr. Garner pushes the officer’s arm away, saying, “Don’t touch me!” Then, an officer comes from behind Mr. Garner and places his arm around Mr. Garner’s neck. The officer brings Mr. Garner to the ground, while multiple policemen physically force Mr. Garner to put his hands behind his back. During the arrest, Mr. Garner is heard stating, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe,” over and over.
Mr. Garner died within an hour of the arrest. After policemen subdued him, he became unconscious. An ambulance came and he was driven to a hospital. On the way, he suffered a cardiac arrest and died. Mr. Garner weighed 350 pounds and had heart disease, severe asthma, diabetes, obesity, and sleep apnea. It is clear that his health problems, coupled with the severity of the arrest, led to Mr. Garner’s death.
To determine if the policemen had acted illegally, a grand jury of 23 members reviewed evidence of the case. Of the 23 jurors, 9 were not white. On September 29, the grand jury decided the police did not act illegally. The grand jury decided that if an individual is believed to be breaking the law, policemen’s duty is to stop this activity, and if the person resists arrest, force is necessary. Police did not try to kill Mr. Garner, but as a result of the arrest and Mr. Garner’s health, he died.
Those who believe Mr. Garner was a victim of police brutality claim that he was a “gentle giant,” however, the facts present another scenario. Mr. Garner had a history of breaking the law, and had been charged with selling “Loosies” in the past. Aged 43, Mr. Garner had been arrested 30 times since 1980, on charges including assault and grand larceny. At the time of his arrest and death, Mr. Garner was on bail for illegally selling cigarettes, driving without a license, marijuana possession and false impersonation.
The video of the arrest is terrible, sad, and frightening. It is horrible to witness someone in his last moments of life physically resisting policemen. It is sad to see the challenge that regular-sized policemen have in detaining a huge man who is resisting arrest. And, it is frightening to see that our policemen are forced to enforce outrageous taxes on cigarettes and to know that our country’s laws have become so insane that it makes buying and selling tobacco dangerous.
1. Why have there been protests in cities across America related to Mr. Garner’s case?
2. Try to hold your breath and speak without exhaling or inhaling. Is it possible?
3. When Mr. Garner was saying, “I can’t breathe,” do you think policemen didn’t believe him?
4. What evidence do we have that the police in this case were acting out of racism?
5. What is the bias of the author of this article involving taxes on cigarettes? What words inform you of this bias?