Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Minor Crime Questioning Led to Chokehold Death of Eric Garner

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Minor Crime Questioning Led to Chokehold Death of Eric Garner

Article excerpt

Eric Garner, a New York man allegedly selling illegal "loosies" - single cigarettes - outside a Staten Island store, died Thursday after police used an unauthorized street fighting move known as a "chokehold" to subdue the 350-pound man.

The stark contrast between a minor street crime - one which Mr. Garner had been arrested for many times - and the tragic consequence of leaving a widow with six kids has forced New Yorkers to revisit some of the darker chapters for the city's elite but oft-chastised police force, and to rehash what many thought were long-settled issues.

According to Police commissioner William Bratton, chokeholds used by at least two police officers to subdue Garner came after the man pleaded with a gaggle of officers to leave him alone as he was "minding his own business."

"Every time you see me, you want to mess with me," Garner can be heard saying. "I'm tired of it. It stops today. I'm minding my business please just leave me alone."

The encounter escalated to the point of a faceoff, whereupon one officer wraps his arm around his neck even as Garner, now on the ground, pleads that he can't breathe. A few minutes later Garner loses consciousness as the officer mashed his face into the sidewalk - the victim of a fatal heart attack.

Enough of the ordeal was captured by an amateur photographer's camera for Mayor Bill de Blasio to rule the death "a terrible tragedy." A bigger question remained: Why did two veteran officers feel free to employ a tactic banned in 1993, especially given that a civil conversation may have deescalated the ordeal.

It was all the way back in 1983 when the department, following several asphyxiation deaths, banned the practice except in cases of imminent danger to the police officer. In 1994, a year after the city banned the tactic altogether, NYPD Officer Francis Livoti killed Bronx resident Anthony Baez with a chokehold after Mr. Livoti's cruiser was hit by a football being thrown around by friends. Livoti was found not guilty of negligent homicide, but later served seven years in prison after a federal court found he violated Baez' civil rights. …

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