The Chokehold Death Of Eric Garner: How A Video Unspun NYPD's Spin

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NYPD Commissioner William Bratton -- his "broken windows" approach sends another man to his grave

[Publisher's Commentary]

The initial story fed to the public through the always reliable corporate media about the death of Eric Garner after he was confronted by New York Police July 17, on Staten Island, was the typical police spin and this is The New York Times initial headline: "Staten Island Man Dies After Police Try to Arrest Him."

And the Times report, based entirely on the New York Police Department's account read this way:

"A Staten Island man died on Thursday after police officers tried to arrest him on the street not far from the Staten Island Ferry, the police said. The man, Eric Garner, 43, went into cardiac arrest as he was being placed into custody around 4:45 p.m. on Bay Street, across from Tompkinsville Park, the police said. He was pronounced dead a short time later at Richmond University Medical Center on Staten Island. It was not immediately clear why Mr. Garner was being arrested, or if he had been in handcuffs at the time. The police said he had been arrested numerous times, mostly recently in May on charges of illegal cigarette sales. Mr. Garner weighed well over 300 pounds, the police said."

So the NYPD's original account, dutifully disseminated by The New York Times as if it was the public relations unit of the Police Department, did not contain any information that would incriminate the arresting cops in Garner's death. He just somehow "went into cardiac arrest" and, the NYPD also made sure the Times became aware that he was, after all, "well over 300 pounds.." suggesting that obesity may have caused his death absent any other factors.

This version of the story was posted on The Times' website about 17 hours ago -- long before a video appeared on YouTube showing that Garner was actually placed in a chokehold by one of the two officers who initially confronted him.

What if someone hadn't shot the video? It would have been the NYPD's words against those of witnesses, other African Americans, whose accounts would have possibly been either discredited or challenged by the NYPD. After all, the police had already omitted a critical aspect about the encounter in the story the NYPD fed the Times.

The New York Post's initial version of the story also declared, "Man dies after suffering heart attack during arrest."

The story itself began: "An obese man died of a heart ­attack Thursday after he was tackled by police officers on Staten ­Island, cops and witnesses said.Eric Garner, 43, who weighed about 350 pounds, had been selling untaxed cigarettes on the street in Tompkinsville at around 5 p.m. when he was approached by officers and resisted arrest, ­according to police..."

At least The Post's version had accounts of witnesses, reading, in part:

"But multiple civilian witnesses said Garner had not been selling cigarettes, and instead had been trying to break up a fight between two people who fled before officers arrived.

'Why you touching me? I didn’t sell anything. I was breaking up a fight,' Garner shouted, according to witnesses.

Observers said the incident ­escalated quickly.

“They ran up on him and got rough right away. He wasn’t fighting back,” said Gordon Benson, 33.

More than five cops knocked Garner to the ground, witnesses said.

The New York Daily News had an exclusive and under the headline "Staten Island man dies after NYPD cop puts him in chokehold" reported:

"A 400-pound asthmatic Staten Island dad died Thursday after a cop put him in a chokehold and other officers appeared to slam his head against the sidewalk, video of the incident shows.

“I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” Eric Garner, 43, repeatedly screamed after at least five NYPD officers took him down in front of a Tompkinsville beauty supply store when he balked at being handcuffed.

A review of the graphic video, which is 2:04 minutes long, confirms The Daily News's version and shows Garner initially telling a police officer "leave me alone."

"Every time you see me you're arresting me -- I'm tired of this," Garner says. "Watchu bothering me for? I ain't do nothing," Garner says. "Everybody standing here they told you I ain't do nothing," he says to the officer he's facing, apparently referring to several witnesses at the scene, presumably including the person who taped the incident.

"I did not sell nothing!" he says.

The New York Police Department officer facing Garner asks an inaudible question and he answers: "Because every time you see me you harass me, you stop me, talking about I'm selling cigarettes. I'm minding my business officer. I'm minding my business, please just leave me alone."

The reference to selling cigarettes is apparently to selling unlicensed cigarettes on the streets, which Garner says he wasn't engaged in doing.

At the 0:39 seconds mark of the recording the second officer behind Garner steps closer and tries to grab his hand and he says, "Please don't touch me, please don't touch me." The first officer also tries to grab Garner's arm as a third officer appears on the video frame from Garner's right.

The second officer who had been behind Garner places him in a chokehold as the second officer is joined by two others in wrestling Garner to the ground. The second officer maintains the chokehold.

At the 0:54 minute mark Garner can be heard choking before he starts pleading, several times, "I can't breath, I can't breath, I can't breath, I can't breath ..."

The officer who had placed Garner in a chokehold is seen pressing his head on the ground with his hand while he's still pinned to the ground by the other officers.

"All he did was break up a fight," a person's voice is heard, possibly the person who videotaped the incident.  Garner's prone and limp body is visible on the video.

After the release of the video New York City Councilmember and Deputy Leader, Jumaane Williams, who represents the 45th District, issued the following statement:

"No New Yorker should be a victim of police brutality, and NYPD must hold their officers accountable. My prayers for peace and comfort go out to Eric Garner's family and friends after this tragic event. As an elected official who has fought for better police practices, the video of an unarmed man screaming in a chokehold that he can't breathe disgusts me. Selling illegal cigarettes, which has yet to be confirmed, should not mean a death sentence.

"Garner joins a list that every male of more color in New York City knows they are a candidate for and every mother of more color dreads. A list that includes Eleanor Bumpurs, Amadou Diallo, Abner Louima, Ramarley Graham, Anthony Baez and Sean Bell. Our new administration has assured us a better relationship with NYPD and the communities they serve. The opportunity is here. In that vain, I look for swift condemnation and action  from NYPD toward justice for Garner and his family, and to show that they will not stand for brutal, unrestrained policing practices that lead to fatalities of unarmed New Yorkers."

Separately, Joo-Hyun Kang, spokesperson for the Police monitoring group,  Communities United for Police Reform in a statement said:

“We extend our deepest condolences to the family of Eric Garner. His death at the hands of NYPD, whose job is to serve and protect New Yorkers, is unacceptable and tragic. It’s yet another example of unnecessary police encounters resulting from broken windows-style policing that targets New Yorkers of color – in this case escalating with fatal consequences. Sadly, Mr. Garner is one of too many New Yorkers of color who have unjustly had their lives cut short by police officers over the past decades. It is even more troubling that this incident, where a chokehold – which is against the NYPD's own use of force policy – was used, comes nearly 20 years after Anthony Baez was killed by a NYPD officer’s use of an illegal chokehold. In order for these incidents to end, it is critical that a thorough and timely investigation be conducted, justice be served and all officers involved be held accountable. In addition to opposing hyper-enforcement of minor offenses that characterizes broken windows policing, Communities United for Police Reform has called for a zero tolerance policy for police brutality, especially as it relates to the killing of unarmed New Yorkers.  Far too often the justice and oversight systems have failed families who have lost loved ones to police violence, creating even further injustice. That must not continue.”

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio also released this statement: "On behalf of all New Yorkers, I extend my deepest condolences to the family of Mr. Garner, who died yesterday afternoon while being placed in police custody. We have a responsibility to keep every New Yorker safe, and that includes when individuals are in custody of the NYPD. That is a responsibility that Police Commissioner Bratton and I take very seriously. We are harnessing all resources available to the City to ensure a full and thorough investigation of the circumstances of this tragic incident. The NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau is working closely with the Office of the Richmond County District Attorney, which is leading this investigation."

Thankfully a New York City citizen did the right thing and recorded the deadly incident.

When the NYPD officers face justice, as they must, the people won't have to rely only on the officers' version of the story fed to The New York Times.

Garner was a father to six children according to a media account.


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