Rest in peace, Eric Garner. I never knew you, would never have met you, and do not know a thing about you. Yet I, and millions others, have watched the events leading to your death at too young of an age. Your death will become symbolic of a problem, but first and foremost, it was a death of a person that really did not deserve to die.
With the recent grand jury decision not to indict the police officer who ended up killing Garner, it is inevitable that Garner will become the new symbol of the movement to reform police policy in regards to excessive force and general overreach. However, the cases of Eric Garner and Michael Brown are markedly different, and people should stop conflating the two. Additionally, the argument over police force and power does not (and is not) a strictly conservative and liberal divide. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has been particularly vocal about problems he sees with policing in America. I think Garner’s case – and the issue of policing – deserve attention in conservative circles.
I will not pretend to know the facts of the case, because I did not sit with the grand jury to learn them. I do not know what was going through the police officers’ minds or Garner’s minds. But the situation as reported in many sources and seen on video was not one that should have ended in death. An argument with police officers and initial resist at arrest or handcuffing simply does not justify lethal force. Additionally, it was clear that strong force continued to be applied even after Garner was clearly subdued. It could be argued that Garner’s size (or any unique health factor) contributed to his death, and that may or not be true. But the coroner ruled his death a homicide.
Police officers have to be able to defend themselves and those around them. If a person uses severe or lethal force, the officer has a right to defend him or herself. Certainly, police have to take precautions with pat-downs, watching a suspect’s hands, and other measures. But police forces have to be wary of responding with over-the-top force. In a seven year period, almost 3,000 people have died by homicide during arrests. Undoubtedly, police were defending themselves properly in many of these. But 3,000 is an awful high number.
Many people have tried to make the deaths of Garner, Brown, and others about race. But I don’t think the officers went to work that day thinking they wanted to kill black men – or anyone at all. Instead, the policies – or attitudes – in place at many departments, may not make enough concern for the lives of the suspects, who deserve due process – unless they are about to cause imminent harm.
Of course, police officers often have reason to fear for their lives. Over that same seven year period (2003-2009), 1,097 officers were killed in the line of duty. They need to get home to their families too. That means citizens need to act responsibly. Obviously we should not be committing crimes, but if we are stopped for one, do not give the officer reasons to use force. Preserve our constitutional rights, but let us act reasonably and unaggressively. As an example, my parents instructed me, that if pulled over while driving, to be polite and keep my hands in plain sight. A little cooperation and respect for both “sides” will go a long way.
The point of this column is not make recommendations or to point fingers – it is to raise awareness. Quite frankly, I have no idea what reforms would work best and I sure do not have the credentials to start proposing good ideas. Instead, I want to encourage all of us conservatives – and Americans – to give this issue serious consideration. We should always ensure that government is acting within its lawful bounds on every issue, and police force is no different. Together, we can ensure that law enforcement can act justly and defend themselves properly.