WE CAN’T BREATHE!

December 12, 2014

“Get away for what? Every time you see me, you want to mess with me.

I’m tired of it. It stops today. Why would you…?

Everyone standing here will tell you I didn’t do nothing. I did not sell nothing. Because every time you see me, you want to harass me. You want to stop me […] selling cigarettes. I’m minding my business, officer, I’m minding my business.

Please just leave me alone.
I told you the last time, please just leave me alone.
Please please, don’t touch me.
Do not touch me.
I can’t breathe.
I can’t breathe.
I can’t breathe.
I can’t breathe.
I can’t breathe.
I can’t breathe.
I can’t breathe.
I can’t breathe.
I can’t breathe.
I can’t breathe.

I can’t breathe.”

These are the final words of Eric Garner before he was murdered by a police officer.  His words tell the story of tens of thousands of people of color around the country who are tired of being harassed and abused by the police. This harassment and abuse is habitual, unremitting, incessant and it’s wrong. It’s an occurrence that people of color face every day in the form of racial profiling, “stop and frisk” and “broken windows” policing.  Can you imagine being harassed by a cop every time you walk down the street, simply for walking down the street?

Mr. Garner tried to walk away from police, he pleaded with them to leave him alone, asking “please,” but the police did what they too often do when a person rightly or wrongly questions their authority – they escalated the situation. In this case, their irresponsible and out of control actions resulted in the death of a person, and he did not deserve to die. It isn’t the first time this has happened and, unless things change, it won’t be the last. Too often the default behavior of the police includes disrespect, escalation of tension, intimidation and violence.

The video of Eric Garner being tackled, held to the ground and choked to death by police infuriates me as it should every American who values human life and the right of all Americans to live free of police harassment and abuse.  This incident is outrageous, not only for the death of yet another unarmed black man at the hands of the cops, but for the pathetic charade of a legal system that America commonly and erroneously refers to as “the justice system.”  Americans cannot keep their collective head buried in the sand any longer. A man’s life was taken in broad daylight, caught on video, the culprit clearly visible and no one has been held accountable. If these circumstances are not enough to require a public trial, then what is?  Without the possibility of an indictment, never mind a trial, the police are literally acting as judge, jury, and executioner. They are handing down death sentences to people selling cigarettes, playing in a park, walking down the street, for being black in America.  Eric Garner was murdered in plain sight for all of America to witness, yet his killer, Officer Daniel Pantaleo, was set free without facing trial. The conclusion to this outcome is very clear: in present day America a white cop, who is not in fear for his life or the life of others, who is not acting in self-defense, can kill an unarmed, restrained and powerless black man without consequence.

The case of Eric Garner highlights two very serious issues: the epidemic of police brutality, and systemic racism in America. Time and again we see documented incidents of police acting out of control. Arguably the most dramatic, disgusting and criminal expression of this abuse comes in the form of them using their authority to oppress and murder people of color. The reality is that WE live in a police state, where the police are a special class who get away with murder on a regular basis. An intensive overhaul of police powers and practices in our country is long overdue.  But for as much as our country needs to face the issue of police brutality it cannot do so without facing the issue of systemic racism. This includes recognizing that we have a legal system that distributes so-called “justice” based on skin color. If there was ever a wake-up call to the shameful state of our legal system, it is Eric Garner’s senseless, violent and unnecessary murder, and our failure to address it appropriately.

Many white Americans cannot imagine what it would be like to walk in the shoes of a person of color nor can they admit that they are treated so much better, and others so much worse, solely because of the color of their skin. The vast majority of whites can walk down the street without ever considering that they may be harassed, let alone killed by police. Being out in public should not become a roll of the dice for your life, but for black men in particular that’s reality, day in and day out.

It is easy to be overwhelmed by the massive scale of racial problems in the United States, but we should not shy away from the challenge.  A first step towards addressing how broken our police and justice systems are, is to recognize and acknowledge the reality of police brutality and racism, and the ways that they pervert the course of justice.  We will only find solutions and begin to move forward when all Americans have the courage and insight to confront the depth and breadth of how entrenched racism is in our society. We cannot overcome racism ignorant or divided. Such a monumental undertaking requires the participation of ALL of us. Otherwise, the killing will continue.

Peace-Love-Respect,

Justin Sane – Anti-Flag

 

(Note: Op-ed originally published by New Noise Magazine online:  http://newnoisemagazine.com/justin-sane-anti-flag-pens-thoughts-eric-garner-incident/)