Tuesday 9 December 2014


Suffocating Justice: The New York Daily News's cartoonist, Bill Bramhall, captures the shock and dismay of liberal America at the frightening implications of a New York Grand Jury's refusal to indict those responsible for the homicide of Eric Garner.
“I CAN’T BREATHE!” Who could hear those words and not respond? What sort of police officer, effecting the arrest of an unarmed black man by placing him in an illegal chokehold, could hear that anguished cry and refuse to lessen his grip?
The first part of the answer is, quite simply: a person who has never learned how to look at a black person and see a human-being. The second: a police officer who understands that, if the deceased is a black man, then his arresting officer/s will never be made accountable for his death.
Racism, and the informal legal protection afforded to racist police officers by America’s Grand Jury system, is what makes the deaths of unarmed African-Americans, like Eric Garner, inevitable. In spite of the fact that the NYPD officer responsible for Mr Garner’s death had a record of “racial bias”; and regardless of the fact that the whole outrageous incident was recorded on a witness’s cellphone; a Grand Jury composed of “ordinary” New Yorkers declined to press charges.
The widespread protests that followed the Grand Jury’s decision have made headlines around the world. Less visible, however, was the counter-protest of a group of female primary school teachers against their union’s condemnation of Mr Garner’s death. These women, all of them white and all wearing an “I support the NYPD” t-shirt, took a photograph of themselves and posted it on Facebook. They were all employees of a public school with African-American and Hispanic children on the student roll.

Racist to the Core: Teachers from Public School 220, Queens, New York, indicate the value they place on the life of a Black father of six.
What shocked liberal Americans was not only the nature of the counter-protesters’ profession – these were teachers, for God’s sake! – but also their absolute and deeply disturbing ordinariness.
Presented to the public gaze were not the angular, lock-jawed matriarchs of some 1960s Mississippi backwater staring malevolently into the lens of a photojournalist from Life magazine. No, these were “Soccer Moms” from Queens. Gals next door. The sort of friendly, fresh-faced suburbanites Americans bump into every day at the super-market. The “lovely women” encountered several times a year at parent-teacher evenings. The trained professionals who teach their kids!
Racists to the core.
The teachers’ Facebook posting produced the same jarring effect as photographs taken at lynchings during the 1920s and 30s. Surrounding the charred remains of the lynch-mob’s Black victims were, typically, scores of perfectly “normal” white people (and their children!) who had turned out to watch the “fun”. The bland, smiling faces of the female staff of New York City Public School No. 220 offered a visual echo of those dreadful images from 90 years ago. They bear grim testimony to a white community every bit as oblivious to its complicity in racial injustice and exemplary violence.

Faces At A Lynching: "Ordinary" people utterly oblivious to their complicity in racial injustice and exemplary violence.
The example of New York’s, Eric Garner, like the example of Ferguson, Missouri’s Michael Brown, and countless others before them, has exposed the extent to which African-Americans remain the despised “Other” of United States’ Society. Many other ethnicities have had to endure the scorn of America’s White Anglo-Saxon Protestant elite. But, while the Irish, Italians, Poles and Jews eventually found their hyphenated niche within the American Dream, African-Americans remain, overwhelmingly, on the outside looking in.
Can anyone honestly say that the extreme animus directed towards the presidency of Barack Obama owes nothing to his colour? That the Tea Party’s extraordinary political traction among elderly white Americans has nothing to do with a Black President’s determination to admit African-American and Hispanic citizens into full membership of the national family? That the relentless arithmetic of demographic change, which points to White Americans falling below 50 percent of the population within the lifetimes of children living today, has not reignited the same primal fears that spawned the intractable racial violence of the Deep South?
Those of us who remember the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s also recall the central role Southern law enforcement played in the enforcement of racial segregation and the maintenance of white power. Southern county sheriffs and local police departments had always provided the front-line troops of Dixie’s racial war. On the rare occasions Southern police officers were charged with offences against African-Americans, Southern juries inevitably voted for acquittal.
The fate of Eric Garner points to the “Dixiefication” of the whole of the United States. The same racialization of poverty and powerlessness that characterised the Deep South has migrated both North and West. The same fetishisation of skin pigmentation as the crucial determinant of one’s place in the social hierarchy now infects even that last, great bastion of liberal influence, the teaching profession. And, finally, the near universal contracting-out of the practical business of racial oppression to local law enforcement is leading thoughtful Americans to the grim conclusion that, in the long-run, it is the South that won the Civil War.
America, herself, will soon be gasping: “I can’t breathe!”
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 9 December 2014.


Jamie said...

Don't get sucked in Trotter, you are better than that!!!


Guess that bloke didn't get the memo???


If you wanna blame someone for Eric Garner's death how about blaming the government for passing stupid petty laws???

Or Eric Garner for resisting arrest, did you see the size of him???

Please don't be like these stooges and throw the police under the bus...


If you want to see excessive force check this...


Guerilla Surgeon said...

For fuck sake Jamie what sort of bullshit websites are you going to. The evidence surrounding these cases is to say the least confused. The problem is of course that none of the victims actually got their chance in court. And grand juries simply refuse to commit policeman – almost ever. It's almost impossible to get a policeman convicted for killing a civilian in the U.S. Get out of your nutty, right-wing racist blogs and go and look at some real news sites. Christ, Garner was selling single cigarettes in the street. They could have just told them to sod off or given a ticket and walked away. Not to mention that the actual hold used was illegal – or at least against regulations. I can't see why this can't be tested in open court. But then I don't frequent sites run by guys in white hoods.

Chris Trotter said...

Okay, okay, you two - that's enough!

Just go back to your tables and enjoy your beer.

People come here for lively, but respectful, discussion and debate.

If you can't do that (Jamie, I'm looking hard at you) perhaps you'd better find another pub.

Anonymous said...

Damned interesting article Chris.

Tangentially related and equally interesting is the movie 'The house I live in' - about various wars on drugs in america, these wars are waged fiercely against users if they come from the lower classes, or classes which are competing with the dominant white middle majority. Originally the war on opium was used to imprison and expel chinese coolies who had outlived theyre usefulness and were an economic threat to the white majority.

More recently its been waged against black slum dwellers selling and using crack (cocaine which is a drug of choice by respectable whites but is almost identical to crack has far lighter punishments).

The current war is against Meth with the users being white trash country bumpkins.

Im not sure about all the motivations of such harsh and selective sentencing, but Id be willing to bet its got something to do with political participation of middle class voters and theyre fears of the dirty outsiders and the filthy habits they might have.

Davo Stevens said...

Oh Jamie mate, stay away from those nutty rightwing sites.they do you head in.

Although Blasio would like to have them banned completely, cigarettes are still legal in NY. Mr. Garner was just trying to make a few bucks legally to help support his family. The actions of the cop who killed him was not legal, the Choke Hold is banned for that very reason.

Jamie said...

"Just go back to your tables and enjoy your beer" Trotter

Rogie beer in hand.


Don't ever say I don't try!

I'll leave the punters with this...


P.S. For the record, I've seen drunks get bounced from pubs worse than the way Eric Garner was arrested.

adam said...

Hi Chris - yeah saw that photo yesterday - as I was catching up on some news. Here is an interesting take - from a union perspective.


The point I found most interesting - was these teachers then wore the Shirts back into class full of black children. That in itself seems to support you point of out of touch, white america.

markus said...

It's important to point out that this was a Staten Island Grand Jury and Staten Island has long been considered the odd one out among New York's Boroughs - a conservative bastion in an otherwise impeccably liberal City.

At the last Presidential Election (2012), Obama took New York City as a whole with more than 80% of the vote while, in contrast, Staten Island was pretty much split down the middle.

Go back to the Bush years and while New York similarly went overwhelmingly Democrat, Staten Island was splitting late 50s/early 40s in favour of Bush.

Queens, of course, is an entirely different prospect. All depends how typical those teachers are. Apparently, this "counter-protest" began after the United Federation of Teachers (representing more than 200,000 of the City's public school teachers) decided to sponsor and support the (Al Sharpton-led) Eric Garner March, in turn, provoking outraged conservative teachers to circulate an on-line petition demanding the union President's resignation and calling on teachers to show their support for police by wearing NYPD shirts on the first day of school. That's the broader context.

Interestingly, given the community from which the Grand Jury was drawn, Staten Island teachers - many of whom are apparently related to NYPD officers - have been especially vocal and antagonistic towards their union's stance.

markus said...

Interesting wider context: Antagonism between white teachers (particularly Jewish teachers) and the black community through the 60s, climaxing in the 1968 New York City teacher's strike, which pitted a largely Jewish professional Teacher's Union against Black community activists fighting for control of failing schools.

40-50 years on, it's unlikely to be directly related but there may well be some lingering effects of that bitter division, passed on to conservatives among the current generation of teachers. It's been argued that, as a result of the enmity surrounding the strike, race began to eclipse class as the main axis of social conflict in the Big Apple.

David said...

Did I hear it wrong then - that the "choke hold" did not kill him but that he went into cardiac arrest later in the ambulance. That report had it that he died of a heart attack and not asphyxiation. Wrong? or does it just not suit the narrative of police brutality whereby a 90lb weakling could strangle a 200lb gorilla with form for violence.

How convenient for Obama and the pot stirrers that the cop was white (albeit acting under orders from a black female) and that USA is teetering on the edge of a wave of racial violence and civil unrest, a nice distraction from the POTUS's political problems to have the sights of the MSM so set on such an irresistable juicy target, ripe for explosive headlines and reportable conflict. Sure sells copy and advertising space.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

There's a lot of conservative stuff on the net about how the hold didn't really kill him. I guess we'll have to wait for an autopsy? Unless one has already been done? Personally I think it's just a right-wing excuse. Let's face it, there were 4 to 6 policeman all over the sky like a rash, holding him down lying on top of him and so on.

This sort of characterisation of the victim though goes right back to Emmett Till, who was characterised as "...looking much older than he was." At the time. You can see this attitude in the general stress in the Conservative mind on the size and aggression (allegedly) of the victims.
But class is relevant too. Garner was a small businessman avoiding taxes. Basically he should be a tea party icon. But unfortunately for him, unlike large businesses who also avoid taxes, he couldn't afford a lawyer to stand beside on the street waiting for the police to come along.
It's also an indictment on the overly strict policing which is supposed to reduce crime but doesn't. Basically, they could have given a ticket. This was not a felony case.

Davo Stevens said...

There is much paranoia in the US, the White, Protestant Men of Property are fast becoming a minority there and they are trying to keep control perhaps?

They are worried about the number of Hispanics (white but not quite) crossing their border. That and the fact as Catholics they produce many more children and eventually will overrun the white men of property. Soon the Blacks, Browns and, heaven forbid - the Indians, will be the majority and they can't have that.

The racial issues in the South East of the US is distressing, I have seen it personally.

Jigsaw said...

Jamie- not worth contributing -no debate here just abuse.

Jamie said...

The plot thickens...

"The truly terrifying thing about Eric Garner’s death is that I don’t think the cops in that video hated anybody. They were just doing their job. And their job included strangling a man to death for having sold “loosies” – untaxed cigarettes. Something he wasn’t doing when he was killed; he had just broken up a fight that the police came to investigate."


First they came for the smokers...


And Lindsay spoke out...

Brendon Harre said...

David I haven't got the time to investigate all the ins and outs of the case. But the dangerous thing about a choker hold is it cuts of blood supply as well as the airway. That is why choker holds quickly incapacitate someone and unfortunately can quickly lead to death. Anyway the point being a heart attack may not be proof that the victim did not die by choker hold.

Jamie said...

I think a better title would be...

"Eric Garner - Choked to death for the crime of selling loose cigarettes"

David said...

You have got to admit that "cigarette seller choked to death by cop" serves a lot of ancillary purposes better than "criminal with multiple serious health issues dies of heart attack in ambulance" and that it is being milked for all it is worth regardless of the truth. In this case "truth" being something in rather short supply and in reality no-one really knows.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Jigsaw, amazing how you can selectively read statements for abuse. Alleging that we abuse Jamie, while ignoring stuff like "Stick up for the goons in the gesapo." (Sic) and "You're a know-all-stooge". Even if you agree with those statements, it's abuse. The cognitive dissonance in your brain must be amazing :-).

Paulus said...

As I understand it he had Asthma which would not tolerate a choke hold as it severely restricted his ability to breath. I believe this came out in the autopsy.
Once again a sad indictment of a sad society.

Guerilla Surgeon said...


Interesting article on racism in America. It's turning ugly.

Davo Stevens said...

Quite right Brendon. Anyone who knows anything about asthma will know that an attack can cause heart failure. The heart gets deprived of oxygen.

In this case it wasn't the death but it was another dead Black at the hands of White coppers. The rest is just a diversionary tactic.

aberfoyle said...

So what is new.Even happens here in our and pleasant land.Remember two police shootings of two men, one in Petone the other in Wainuiamata,both Maori.

The Petone one was late seventies or early eighties.The armed offenders broke down his door round dawn,he charged down the hallway with,as the police said was a rifle,they put two in his chest,no coming back from that,it was later discovered at the inquest he had a long crow bar holding it close to his chest,not in a threatning manner.

The other in Wainui,early nineties,home domestic.He had a single shot 22.the Police,closed down Wainui for five hours, no one in or out over the hill.i was one of the pissed off workers trying to get home,however round six thirty in the evening summer he came out holding his single shot 22,the police shot him in the knee and then two in the chest,no coming back from that either.

The armed offenders in those days used dum dum bullets outlawed by the Geneva convention as inhuman,i believe they still use them.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Soft nosed rounds are used by police forces everywhere. They are not bound by the Geneva Convention seemingly. They are also used by hunters all over the world, because they kill quicker and cleaner.

aberfoyle said...

Before pointing the finger of your smug compassion,understand the reality of your surroundings.

Jigsaw said...

GS - Using the F word to someone else-anyone else, is disgusting and totally unnecessary. It's amazing how you always see the mote in another's eye but never in your own. Abuse is Never a useful substitute for debate-never!
So much misinformation here. As an example the man was selling out of state cigarettes-and of course its dumb that they have different states with different tax regimes. As I understand it the retailers in the area had complained about his activities. The man was resisting arrest-no excuse for killing him of course but neither was he without fault.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

So you object to my swearing jigsaw? That's not necessarily abuse you realise? The comprehension of abuse is about on par with your comprehension of the ad hominem fallacy. For instance, if I said "fuck you Jamie" – that would be abuse. FFS is not. It was just expressing exasperation. Personally I find the ability to use profanity on this site refreshing, considering I spend a fair amount of time on American sites where comments are heavily modded for it. People still use it, it is just that they have to find ways of getting round the automatic moderators. I think that if you're going to object to profanity per se, you better go back to not reading or responding to my posts at all. Just don't accuse me of not debating.
I think it was the "no debate" comment that cut me to the quick :-). If you'd bothered to read on after the fuck, you would notice that I very definitely did debate the ideas, and the news sources that Jamie was referring to.
And here's some debate for you. I'm not sure what different regulations in different states has to do with the fact that someone was killed. That is if you were referring to anything I've said. All I said was that large companies managed to avoid tax without their CEOs being choked to death. Because they can afford to hire lawyers to obfuscate their tax evasion. The fact that retailers complained about him is neither here nor there. He was put in an illegal or non-regulation hold, which killed him. The fact that he maybe had asthma or something is also largely irrelevant, because that may be the reason why the hold is illegal in the first place. And in this case, sanctioning the police use of this hold is a minority position in the U.S., even amongst white people – unlike the killing of Michael Brown. His offence was the equivalent of a traffic ticket for god's sake. I suggest that if you haven't, you watch the film clip of his arrest.

aberfoyle said...

Question your land Gorilla,afore others.

Jamie said...

G.S can swear at me all he likes. There ain't a bad name under the sun I haven't been yelled at during my time in the service.

Desensitized I believe the word is.

Jigsaw is right though, it is a bad habit.

Hey G.S where did your 'Combat Vietnam Veteran' mate go???

There's a lot of blokes interested in him.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

You'll need to be a bit more specific about my "combat veteran mate." Jamie. In what context did I mention them, and where are they supposed to have served? Or are you confusing me with someone else? My memory is not what it was, but the only combat veterans I remember served in World Wars I and II. So there aren't that many people likely to be interested in where they went – mostly they're in heaven, one or two probably in hell. Still – remind me - there might be someone I've forgotten :-).

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"The goat slid down the mountain – the goat slid down the grass"

aberfoyle, you might need to be a bit less vague in your quoting. Or perhaps explain exactly what has caught your attention that requires you to quote at me like that :-). As Chris has said this is a place for rational argument, not vague posturings. Refute me or go home.

Jamie said...

G.s Your buddy Davo Stevens. You two are thick as thieves. Tell him there's some blokes interested in him...

I know I know you are going to say you don't know him but I didn't come down in the last shower bud

Chris Trotter said...

There's a rather unpleasant undertone in your comments, Jamie. You should know that I will not tolerate threats of any kind - no matter how veiled - being made to any commentator on this site.

The impression your words are conveying of NZ army veterans does them - and you - no credit.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Thick as thieves?" LOL. Conspiracy theories abound I see. I reiterate, the only veterans I knew were from World War I and World War II. 2 grandfathers – one lost a leg, the other suffered breathing problems. One step grandfather lost an arm. Seven great uncles, at least one of which was younger than my father :-). All in the Army – British Army mind. Father in the Royal Navy – PQ 19 then off to Japan by way of the Mediterranean to be kamikaze'd, and be there at the Japanese surrender. Nothing much but campaign medals, no one was a hero but then I never heard one of them boast like you :-). Enough said.

jh said...

What interpretation of racism do you use Chris? Marx or evolutionary psychology?