Home > Communication, Death, Entreaty, Safety > DESTROY DENIAL. #EricGarner #ICantBreathe

DESTROY DENIAL. #EricGarner #ICantBreathe

Eric Garner, father of six, was choked to death last summer. 

As I wrote here, he “was choked to death by police for potential sale of untaxed cigarettes.”

Today a grand jury failed to indict the police officer who killed him. This is so despite the fact Eric’s death was filmed, or that choke holds had been banned in the jurisdiction since 1993.

Eleven times he said he couldn’t breathe. Eleven times he was ignored by someone who had likely surmised–from precedent long preceding Mike Brown–consequences would be few to none.

My ex-boyfriend was better with computers than people, which made him a better teacher than boyfriend in some ways. 

One of the most important things he taught me was to be especially vigilant facing the things I didn’t want to face. The fact I didn’t want to face them meant I’d already recognized there was some measure of unwanted truth in them, else why not ask the question? Why not at least consider their ramifications, if only in the hypothetical?

When I wrote about how quickly people said Woody Allen couldn’t be a pedophile on account of his wonderful art contributions, I didn’t mean to say that he was guilty or innocent. What I wanted to drive home was people’s unwillingness to even address the possibility that someone beloved could be a genius and a criminal all at once, both a creator and a destroyer.

Unwillingness to see things we don’t want to see doesn’t keep us safe. Even more importantly, it doesn’t keep vulnerable segments of society safe. In fact, it tells those who are vulnerable that we who are better equipped to protect ourselves care more for our fragile sense of safety than the actual safety of all our human brethren. It tells children and people of color, among others, that our sense of safety is more important than their actual safety.

Worse than that, it tells perpetrators that we are prepared to protect them because it’s less painful to us.

So children are molested. People of color are killed for maybe, possibly selling untaxed cigarettes.

In my Woody Allen post I wrote, with emphasis added:

I will look upon things it is hard to look upon.

I will see that which is hard to see.

I will hear that which it’s hard to hear.

I will not deny, nor take part in perpetuating violence by my denial.

Before dating my ex, I found refuge in denial, as if I changed truth by refusing to see it. Thanks to my ex, I regret that I ever took such a position.

It’s my regret that inspires me to challenge you to ask yourself the questions so terrible you cringe even reading them.

What if some police sometimes killed unjustly?

What if racism still exists today, not in my heart but elsewhere?

Does petty crime–or mere suspicion of petty crime?–warrant death without jury? 

What if some–not all, for many serve to protect all truly–are enabled to dehumanize the Other, knowing there will likely be few consequences thanks to the widespread power of denial?

It’s a terrible thing to take off denial’s mighty blinders, but:

it is only by taking in what actually is that “what is” can become “what was.”

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  1. December 3, 2014 at 7:59 pm

    May I share this on FB?

  2. December 3, 2014 at 8:00 pm

    Well said.

  3. December 3, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    I was driving when I heard this on the news. I felt … punched. How can this be happening? How can it happen HERE? There’s no human error here. This is blatantly wrong.

    • December 3, 2014 at 9:40 pm

      I went looking for something that would explain just how the grand jury reached their decision, and found this – which I’m sure you’ve read. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/04/nyregion/officer-told-grand-jury-he-meant-no-harm-to-eric-garner.html?_r=0
      It turns out “I didn’t mean it” is all the defense a police officer needs. Although it helps if the person he attacks is big (ie scary) and obese (ie likely to die anyway).

      • December 3, 2014 at 9:51 pm

        Thank you for linking that here; that makes the scope of the problem so much clearer. It also emphasizes the importance of having a clearly defined process for independently assessing cases of police brutality. When even indictment is avoided (systematically, not just in one case), it’s clear the current approach is not geared toward justice for the slain.

    • December 3, 2014 at 9:40 pm

      Absolutely with you on all counts. I have thought of your last comment many times the last few days. It is ingrained here, if concealed more carefully. That concealment makes it so hard to combat.

      And the Tamir Rice updates? They are unfathomable to me, and yet–even with video–I can easily imagine the complete lack of repercussion. Argh.

  4. December 3, 2014 at 9:49 pm

    Thank you. This is not dissimiliar to something I raised in my last post. I had just read a memoir written by a woman who was in a relationship for fifteen years with someone who was forty-four years older than her. The relationship, which was sexual, began when she was seven.
    I found it confronting, and challenging, and some of it made me feel unwell. And not reading it wouldn’t make it not happen. Too often, things which are hidden in the shadows, grow. Things which we really, really don’t want to grow…
    I am firmly in favour of shining light into corners, under beds, anywhere where darkness resides. Including in my own head and heart.

  5. December 3, 2014 at 10:00 pm

    Too often, things which are hidden in the shadows, grow. Things which we really, really don’t want to grow…
    I am firmly in favour of shining light into corners, under beds, anywhere where darkness resides. Including in my own head and heart.

    YES. Your comments are so beautiful and spot-on.

    I second your conclusion. The last week especially, Anthony’s told me to slow down and accept it will take time to wrap my mind around everything. But having seen some facets of this huge problem, I–using your analogy–find myself compelled to keep shining the light all over, trying to see all the things I haven’t seen before, the better to make sense of them.

    I know I’ll be able to see it all more clearly with time, but … I feel like the more time it takes me, the more hurt is on my shoulders, too. I’m trying to temper this sense of urgency with Anthony’s gentle reassurances that it’s OK if it takes a little time.

  6. December 4, 2014 at 4:50 am

    Facing what is hard, makes us better as people. It also makes us sometimes, weep in fury and impotency for what we have no power over.

    I thank you for this one. May we all face the world without cringing in the dark.

    • December 4, 2014 at 6:34 am

      I’m so struggling with how little power I have to effect change. I’m trying to turn that sentiment into a positive thing–that I do have some small power in speaking–but it feels like a paltry silver lining.

      Still, I would like more people to feel empowered by the fact they can do something than saddened by their inability to effect immediate, all-encompassing change by themselves. So I write, because change will come from the aggregation of each tiny little spark of change from people saying, even in a whisper, “I don’t accept this.”

      • December 5, 2014 at 3:54 am

        Yes, that is it exactly.

        “I do not accept this”

  7. cardamone5
    December 4, 2014 at 5:42 am

    Again, I was disturbed to see this horrible injustice replayed on tv. I can’t wrap my head around it, and yet, we must, in order to, as you say, enact change. I want to compliment your post, but I don’t think that’s what you want. I think you would like us readers to pledge to look hard at truths and act in a way that ensures everyone’s welfare. I pledge to do that.

    Fondly,
    Elizabeth

    • December 4, 2014 at 6:37 am

      Thank you so much. Thank you. Your comment … brought tears to my eyes. I feel so impotent, but your comment is a reminder there is power in our words, both offered and received.

      Would you mind if I share this comment on FB?

  8. December 4, 2014 at 6:47 am

    Oh, this is such a good point. I understand what you mean about feeling powerless to effect change, but I think that doing nothing and saying nothing is kind of like not looking at the hard things. Thank you for saying what needs to be said, and I hope that your words are heard and that all of our words will reverberate. Even if one person’s perspective is changed, that’s still change. Hugs and love.

    • December 6, 2014 at 5:10 am

      Thank you, Rivki. ♥ I’ve been thinking about the “one person’s perspective changed” since I read your comment. I remember being on a FB group for inspirational pages (briefly) and being so saddened how much focus went on the number of people who saw any particular post. I argued that even one person seeing a post on a terrible day and being uplifted was a powerful thing. Everything ripples out. And yet, I don’t think I really saw how that moment fits together with so many others in our lives. Immediate, massive change could be a beautiful thing, but it’s also an unlikely one. Slower and steadier, in ripples, is both possible and important. And something to strive for! Like that joke about how to eat an elephant–bite by bite, not all in one gulp!

  9. December 4, 2014 at 7:30 am

    Deb, what to say?… You always get to the heart of the matter. Sometimes I want to shut out the world. I don’t watch the news, I step away from Facebook, I escape in entertainment and altered states. Why? Because it’s fucking hard to look at what’s going on and accept it as reality; it’s traumatic. I go numb from vicarious trauma overload. Because when I read about this type of event, one of incomprehensible injustice, I want to grab people by the back of their necks and shove their noses in their shit and scream, “Look at what you’ve done! Look at this fucking mess you’ve made!”

    But I am neither the three little monkeys nor Frank Castle. It doesn’t serve me to shelter myself or to seek vengeance. So I, too, pledge to take in “what actually is.” I will not cover my eyes, ears, and mouth. But I will also protect my heart and innocence–and by extension, my family’s well-being–by seeking balance in my life and in what I read.

    And your blog is one of the few things I read with any regularity. I’ve said it before many times, and I will continue to say it because it’s important to me: Thank you. Thank you for your voice. You make this world a better place. ❤

    • December 6, 2014 at 5:17 am

      Your words about protecting your heart and innocence had a powerful impact on me. I’ve been perusing news and Twitter pretty relentlessly the last couple of weeks, living the outrage as if it is my life despite Anthony’s encouragement to keep it in perspective. Reading your words helped me get a lock on the balance I need. It’s important to stay informed and understand what’s happening, but that’s only one part of a life that requires that understanding be situated within patience, hope and full attention to the folks in my own home.

      I stepped back from incessant coverage yesterday. I’ll step into the stream here and there, for maybe a few minutes or an hour at a time, and try to understand full context. But I’ll also step out of it, and be fully with my beloved here. The whole point of my encouraging people to see even the painful, difficult things is to help proliferate love and peace more broadly in the world. The more I focus in on any individual moment or instance, the more frustration–instead of my real objective–drives me. So it’s important to maintain balance that enables this perspective, and I thank you for guiding me back to that.

  10. December 4, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    Reblogged this on enchantedface.

  11. December 4, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    We will be wronged, we have been wronged and we will wrong ourselves.
    Losing faith in humanity is at stake when we are presented with such social quandaries.
    What is done should command our fullest attention, so as to grow and develop; to lose faith in the genuine goodness of humanity, would thrust us into a world of hate.
    Whether one agrees or not, lives are lost and people have suffered.As a reflection on humanity this is the nadir,but let us make our contributions and fly the flag of hope.After all, if we don’t see a path forward, then who will?B

    • December 6, 2014 at 5:19 am

      I’m glad for the perspective you and Chris offered. The goals of love and peace abundant are indeed obtained with a firm hold on hope–if not in every single moment, then overarching!

  12. December 5, 2014 at 5:59 am

    This is an unbelievable tragedy. All of these protests must spark some change in this country.

    • December 6, 2014 at 5:42 am

      Hear, hear.

      Yesterday I made a commitment to step away from my computer. This morning, I awakened to discover #EricGarner, #ICantBreathe and #BlackLivesMatter are the top three hashtags on Twitter. I see this as an indication that many are beginning to see, and seeing in a way that can’t be unseen … not just in a “passing fancy” kind of way.

      I don’t think there’s a quick way to change underlying biases. I think that’s something achieved with active effort over a long term. But I do believe outward action can and must be guided in the shorter term/interim. One pivotal outward step would be to mandate special prosecution (or at least examination) in cases of police killing; as long as the same prosecutors who rely on the police to prosecute all other crimes are responsible for also prosecuting police, police won’t have much cause to really critically assess the need for change.

      We live in an interesting time. Police have historically had a lot of leeway without a lot of public insight into their actions and the consequences of those actions. Thanks to social media (and video surveillance such as captured the killings of Tamir Rice and Eric Garner), actions not once widely scrutinized can and will be. This doesn’t mean the end of police discretion, as I suspect it probably feels to many officers at the moment, but will be essential to ensuring–for example–the level of force exercised more often matches the level of force actually required by the kind of indiscretion or suspected indiscretion; in no world should minor indiscretions routinely result in death.

      Rather, I take this as the potential beginning of a new era, where police and community members will feel like partners instead of adversaries, and entire communities will be bettered by understanding–and living–their shared goal of safer communities. It’ll take a little discomfort to get there, as do all paradigm shifts, but the results could be the right kind of breathtaking.

  13. December 5, 2014 at 11:40 am

    I have a post written, not quite done, with my thoughts on this matter. Very dark times, I fear. I personally don’t think the police officer failed to respond to Garner’s cries because he knew there wouldn’t be stiff consequences. I think he didn’t respond because a) his adrenaline was racing, b) he felt Garner was a criminal who needed to be taken down, and c) Garner obviously could, technically, at that particular moment, breathe or he wouldn’t be able to speak.

    BUT, that shouldn’t make him immune to the consequences. Or even the possibility of consequences. It doesn’t matter that he “didn’t mean to” kill the man. Drunk drivers don’t mean to kill people either. They still face consequences. I think these grand jury non-indictments are very troubling. They weren’t asked to determine guilt/innocence, only the possibility of guilt. Both cases should have gone to trial. Whether the officers were found guilty at that point or not, the families of the victims should have had their day in court.

    I agree with Mike. I sincerely hope these protests spark change. Looking at the average internet commenter, though, I fear that many people just don’t “get” it.

    • December 6, 2014 at 6:22 am

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I look forward to your post!

      I hope we’ve reached critical mass here, where this particular convergence of terrible events means that a public not used to seeing will see and use that seeing to facilitate enduring change. I’ve read many comments that show not-understanding is still widespread, but outliers can take a long time to reach.

      These recent grand jury decisions are part of that seeing and questioning whether tradition should be upheld for the sake of tradition (and familiarity), or replaced by newer approaches better tailored toward just ends. The fact that grand juries–charged only with the question of whether to indict, not to determine guilt or innocence–have been treated and perceived as treating the question of guilt/innocence, would be troubling if it weren’t a matter of setting life and death precedent. Since it does set life and death precedent, it is downright terrifying.

      On the “can’t-breathe” point, Li’l D has told me a few times he can’t breathe. Each time he’s told me that, I’ve waved him off; the very fact he’s speaking means he can breathe.

      One of the key differences between those moments with my son and this one is that I’m not the one instigating the can’t-breathe event. In a case where the event’s instigator fails to hear that those panicked words actually mean “I can only barely breathe right now, and won’t be able to keep that up much longer,” we have a serious problem, a considered favoring of hearing words over intent that benefits the should-have-been hearer.

      In the event where that event’s specially trained instigator fails to hear, for whatever reason, and then–like so many others before him–endures few or comparatively insignificant consequences, we have an even more serious problem. There’s a spectrum along which instances like these fall. For many, the Mike Brown case fell further along the “questionable” end of the spectrum than did the Eric Garner one. In Eric Garner’s case, one where there was virtually no conceivable case for force, adrenaline shouldn’t yet have even entered into the equation for the officers. There was a lot more clear conversation that needed to happen–e.g., “we need to talk to you, you are not at risk, failure to comply will have [x] [not-lethal] consequence” (though clearly, in this world, it was lethal)–before any degree of force should have been exercised, particularly an expression of force banned for how very dangerous it is.

      Police are not ordinary citizens. Police are granted special rights in their communities, which special rights are supposed to derive from special training. That training should include handling a range of incidents without use of force and identifying situations in which force might be required for police and community safety. It should be reinforced often, with clear, predictably returned consequences when that training is ignored to lethal or non-lethal but terrible end … with little potential or actual safety benefit.

      In this particular case, the killing officer has been sued three other times for allegedly violating other (black) people’s constitutional rights. This is similar to the case of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, where the officer almost immediately shot him for playing with a toy gun (and then failed to provide first aid for four minutes); the officer had been written up from his prior position for “a pattern of lack of maturity, indiscretion and not following instructions.”

      Right now, I perceive that people who have both special power and special obligations by virtue of their special enforcement position within their communities remember that they have power, but not that they have special obligations. I believe this imbalanced equation results in terrible consequences, and that training, oversight and consequences for potential misuse of power must all be managed seriously, ongoing, by police departments all over the country. Were this already the case six months ago, there’s a good chance we wouldn’t ever have to ask how or how not one officer’s adrenaline levels impacted any single case.

      • December 6, 2014 at 5:04 pm

        Well, I pretty much agree with every thing you’ve said. I think, though, that you might have misunderstood me just a little bit. When I listed the reasons the officer failed to respond, I meant them from his point of view. I didn’t mean to imply that they were valid reasons. Just that I suspect they were his reasons more than, “Well, if I kill him, there might be a bit of an uproar but I won’t get punished for it.” Maybe it is a sub-conscious thing, though. I could buy that. That they respond with too much force because it’s worked before without causing them personal trouble?

        Obviously, someone who is speaking can breathe, but as you pointed out, they are not being literal but attempting to tell people that they are having extreme trouble breathing.

        I think the surrounding people’s failure to respond showed a callous disregard for Mr. Garner and deserves to be addressed. I’m not willing to write them off completely as unfeeling monsters, though. No more than I’m willing to write off any criminals or drunk drivers or any other people who do wrong. They were wrong and there are systemic problems underlying it all, but I think the motives/reasons/etc are very complicated and it will be complicated to straighten this country out on that front.

        You are so very right though that there are many people with power who love the wielding of it and do so poorly. That’s actually how my draft post starts – with a story of an officer too full of himself and wanting to put me “in my place”. I think black people get a much stronger dose of that from the police than the rest of us but I bet we’ve all experienced a cop that just wanted to be obeyed without question.

        There’s not a whole lot we can do about that. Except fix the system so they are punished appropriately. That and try to identify them and remove them from public service. Since that’s what it’s supposed to be: public service

        • December 7, 2014 at 6:21 am

          I felt like we shared pretty similar perspectives and that I was missing something, but I couldn’t quite pinpoint what! I’m glad you followed up here. I’ve been thinking over your comment since I read it yesterday, since it gave me an opportunity to reflect on something I hadn’t actively considered. I have more considering to do, but find that writing helps that.

          I can’t think of a way to say this that won’t infuriate some, but the truth is … I don’t care too much about the individual officers here. I care about their actions as officials, and assessment of what those actions might or might not reflect, especially on a systemic level. I care about resolving the issues that allow lethal force to be used without clear need on a daily basis. But these officers? While I wish they’d behaved differently during and after these lethal encounters, my focus is more on (i) the victims and their survivors and (ii) ensuring there are many fewer people added to the first category. While I do believe there should have been at least indictment for each of these officers, I’m driven by the question of how to effect change.

          I feel like focusing condemnation on the individual officers detracts from looking at how we avoid proliferation of officers joining their terrible club. I am much more interested in addressing the system that permits killing without indictment than its symptoms (e.g., officers who use unnecessary lethal force much more frequently and without clear need against people of color). Specifically, I support independent prosecutors for all police killings, ongoing training around avoiding lethal force barring exceptional circumstances, and clear consequences for future breach … or, really, consequences at all. The fact that many officers I’ve read about are horrified how they’re being “attacked” in the wake of these killings–with “attacking” meaning their methods and ends are being questioned–means we’ve enabled growth of a group of people (law enforcement officials) enabled to believe the law doesn’t apply to them provided they are on the clock.

          Many years ago, I read about a group of men asked what they’d do if their significant other was raped. Almost every single one focused on harming the rapist. There was just a small handful of men who said they’d do whatever it was their significant other needed. I asked the question of my own male friends. All save one gave variations of “I’d go destroy the @#%^.” Only one said, “I’d do whatever I could to help her … and then I’d go destroy the @#%^.” I haven’t been able to find the study since, but the answers I got from my friends was illuminating to me. They remind me to ask, “How do we help the victims? How do we help create a world with fewer and fewer victims/survivors?” Penalties for present and past individual offenders is some part of that, certainly, but I’m not sure how much it fixes at a systemic level. That’s where I hope to see rapid, quick changes to the system permitting officers to use lethal force with virtually no ramification.

          We can’t bring back those already killed no matter how much we condemn individual officers who killed them. We can–and must–work quickly to ensure we correct a system that permits almost unchecked killing by officials, and to ensure we support of the families who will never again hold their loved ones thanks to this system.

          (Re: the condemnation in the paragraph above, from what I’ve read, most protestors aren’t attacking individual officers. More than that, they’re horrified and saddened that they accurately predicted not only that there would be no consequences … but that there wouldn’t even be a pretense of seeking them. We need a better system than one that fulfills our worst prophecies for it. We need independent prosecutors.)

        • December 7, 2014 at 6:24 am

          (All that’s to say … I agree, but can’t seem to find a way to say it succinctly!)

          • December 7, 2014 at 5:48 pm

            One of the great things about people (imo) is that we all have different perspectives and passions. It’s also a downside, but I’m convinced that all positives have a negative when taken to extreme and vice versa.

            At any rate, what I mean is that caring for the victims and arguing for systemic change is your passion and that’s wonderful. Concern for or looking for justice against the individual police officers is someone else’s passion. It might upset some people that that aspect doesn’t concern you but you truly have to go where your heart leads you.

            If I can go a little spiritual for a minute… if we were all truly able to go where we are called to go and say what we are called to say, we could change the world.

            Just keep preaching it and I’ll keep reading it and absorbing it into my perspective. Which is different from yours since I’m not as personally invested. But that just means that I have a different perspective and thus maybe a way to reach different people. Maybe. We’ll see. Don’t expect to see my post before mid-week at the earliest. My next two days are shot and it’s not something that I want to just throw out there without careful consideration and polishing. 🙂

  14. December 5, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    My heart is so heavy with these tragic events, and no justice for the victims and their families. But I am trying to be hopeful that, as Mike stated, out of tragedy people are waking up and sparking change. Mybrightspot, good explanation of why these cases are a miscarriage of justice: the grand jury process is to determine if there is enough evidence for charges, not guilt or innocence. Deb, thanks for sending these ripples of change out…it will make a difference!

  15. December 5, 2014 at 7:21 pm

    Very well captured. Many times, unpleasant truths go unacknowledged. Thank you for writing this.

  16. Anxious Mom
    December 5, 2014 at 8:59 pm

    I don’t get it. Video evidence. And HuffPost reported that a person was indicted–the one who filmed it. Strange and tragic times we live in.

    • December 6, 2014 at 6:29 am

      Isn’t the indictment of the man who was filming wild? In a world with (reasonably) higher confidence in police action, it wouldn’t be so easy to believe evidence was planted to make–and sustain–a case against the man filming.

      We’re treating grand juries as juries, with terrible consequence. Each has totally different objectives and totally different rules. When a grand jury effectively determines guilt or innocence instead of assessing whether there’s probable cause for indictment, we have a (literally) grave problem. Without the actual jury’s transparency or right of redress in cases of almost certain miscarriage of justice, the grand jury itself then becomes a tool of injustice.

  17. December 9, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    I was pilloried for saying I thought the police were wrong in the Eric Garner case and that I wouldn’t hold Darren Wilson solely accountable in the Michael Brown case.

    People said I had to look at both situations collectively and not individually and I refused to do so.

    The only “collective” response I am willing to give there is that our police officers need more non lethal tools to work with.

    Based upon arm chair quarterbacking and limited knowledge I can’t see how Michael Brown isn’t partially responsible for his death but that doesn’t mean I approve of it or think it was right. It wasn’t necessary.

    That blindness you mentioned above, our periodic unwillingness to look at hard and uncomfortable things creates multiple issues.

    I just hope we take the time to really deal with them now.

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