So this evening my blood pressure has been spiking as I participated in a FB discussion with a gentleman who said (a paraphrase): Eric Gardner made a bad choice that cost him his life. After several attempts to pull away and listen to She and Him’s chill new album. Here was my response:
“I wonder how you view the tragedies of your life. Many of us look at the evil done to us and can say “not my fault.” Yet when evil happens to someone not like us say “their fault.”
So allow me to polish my argument. 1) in hindsight we know Gardner’s criminal history; but in the moment we did not. 2) Some crimes deserve the death penalty; but only after a fair trial and appeals process. 3) Allowing people the power to operate outside the law is bad.
Therefore we must ask 2 related questions. 1) If Gardner was breaking the law, what was an acceptable punishment and 2) Who gets to decide that and when. I would argue that selling cigarettes without the authority to do so, is wrong. Yet this is not an offense deserving the death penalty (which he received in a practical sense).
The cops had a range of options. They could have ticketed him. When questioned they could have sought to de-escalate the situation. They could have walked away. No one was in danger. There was no grave threat to society from someone selling cigarettes. They could have re-grouped and came back.
They chose to escalate the situation. They chose to wrestle and use a choke-hold that was banned from police use. They chose to ignore the man’s report that he couldn’t breath. The moment he said that, they could have loosened their grip in exchange for cooperation. They continued to sit on his chest. Once he passed out they could have called for help. They could have begun CPR while waiting for the medics. They chose to stand around and make jokes. They may not have chosen for him to die. But they did not chose to help him live.
I ask you this. If that was your son. If that was your father. How would you feel. God forbid your child ever breaks the law but suppose cops approach your son outside of a store and accuse him of shoplifting. When he denies it, they yell at him. When he asks them to leave him alone, they tell him to calm down. When he can’t they jump on him and when he reacts instinctively to get away, they choke him. When he screams they apply more pressure. And when he passes out they stand around making jokes.
How would you feel? Be honest. And if I made a flippant comment about how he shouldn’t have shoplifted, how many 4 letters words would you use to describe me? Be honest.
Now suppose you learned that every 28 days a black cop killed an unarmed white boy, some innocent and some committing misdemeanors. How long before you were protesting?”
This is my question for my white brothers and sisters. If the shoe was on the other foot, what would you be saying?