FIELDS: The Lynching of Eric Garner
Walter Fields, NNPA Columnist | 7/30/2014, 3 p.m.
It was one of the most difficult scenes in Spike Lee’s classic movie “Do the Right Thing,” the brutal strangulation of peace-loving Radio Raheem by New York City police in a Brooklyn pizza shop. That scene touched a raw nerve as it recalled the 1983 death of 25-year-old graffiti artist Michael Stewart, another choke-hold victim of the New York City Police Department. Now, we find ourselves enraged over the police killing of Eric Garner in Staten Island, which was captured on a cell phone video as a police officer puts him in a choke hold, with the man pleading that he can’t breathe. Garner was taken away unconscious and later pronounced dead. Another day in America.
Let me be clear – Eric Garner was lynched. He was brutally assaulted and choked to death by a police officer who, supposedly trained, abused his authority with deadly precision. It is not enough to state that the officer used deadly force because when it comes to Black males and police, there is a violent regularity that has persisted for decades. The manner in which Black men and boys are set upon by law enforcement is consistent with their marginalization in society and the degree to which they are a criminalized class. There is no benefit of the doubt, no reasonableness, no dialogue – just force and upon the slightest protest on our part, violence and probable injury or death.
We need to be clear and unambiguous about Eric Garner’s death in the larger context of the suppression of Black males. What is experienced by Black males on a daily basis is seldom the experience of White males, and cannot be fathomed by Whites in general. White mothers do not have to counsel their sons on their behavior should they encounter police or worry when their sons step out their door whether they will be a victim of police violence. Even in the most extreme situations when White males are the perpetrators of violent crime, police are in apprehend mode and not in pursuit with deadly intent.
Eric Garner was lynched.
He is the most recent case in a gigabyte file of such cases. I have yet to see the movie “Fruitvale Station” because I know how difficult it will be to see the reenactment of the killing of Oscar Grant. It cuts too close to home because I remember the killing of 15-year-old Phillip Pannell by a White Teaneck, N.J., police office in 1990. The boy was shot in the back with his arms raised in surrender mode. The White police officer, Gary Spath, was acquitted by an all-White Bergen County jury. The acquittal came amidst a massive police march through the community in support of the officer. That’s the other piece of this ongoing horror show; the closing of the ranks of the blue fraternity and the perpetual denial on the part of law enforcement that these episodes are not the end result of racist intent.
Eric Garner was a victim of racism.