On the July day when a Staten Island policeman choked Eric Garner to death–on video–he dared to stand up for himself. The cops had stopped him too many times to accuse him of selling loosies. He declared that he wouldn’t take it anymore, that he was sick of being harassed. He asked the police to leave him alone. Begged them to, really. Their response was a call for backup, to swarm him and to set it up so that Officer Daniel Pantaleo could choke him to death. Tonight, when officials announced what we expected, that the white policeman who strangled the black 43-year-old father and husband wouldn’t even be tried for reckless endangerment, there is fury.
Folks are staging "die-ins," flanking Christmas tree lightings and shutting down highways. News people are reassuring viewers that the protest is non-violent. White commentators are telling the public how people of color feel about the police. Apparently we weren’t loud enough in Ferguson or Brooklyn, Oakland or Cleveland or Philadelphia. People haven’t written enough pieces like this one to convey that bald fact. Hell, the videos of Garner’s extermination, the Walmart footage of John Crawford, the two-seconds-long lynching of Tamir Rice just haven’t been in the right key.
On Twitter I posted that a white cop would need to publicly disembowel, fry and eat a black man for a grand jury to allow a trial. That gruesome tweet got no "favorites" or retweets. But these killings are absurd enough in their mundanity to conjure up such a horror-flick picture. As absurd as Michael Brown’s stepfather being pressured to apologize for his hurt and rage. As absurd as policemen’s unions acting indignant when a few professional football players throw their hands up (don’t shoot, please). As absurd as the media patting families of victims on the head when they ask–no warn–folks to keep it peaceful. Because the police slaying of an unarmed loved one is just what they need to be more like Gandhi or King.
Eric Garner told the police to leave him be. He was slaughtered (not "murdered," that’s a criminal charge) for asserting himself. Tonight Eric Garner’s widow asserted herself. She told a crowd at a press conference, "Hell no." Hell no, I do not accept belated condolences from Daniel Pantaleo. Apparently the Garners go the route of putting ground up glass in massa’s food and breaking the tools.
Eric Garner repeated "I can’t breathe" before he died, but before that he said no. His widow is now saying no.*
*Post has been updated since publication for style and clarity