Racial tension and public distrust of law enforcement grows as lives are lost and civil liberties are stripped

By Chanelle Perrin,
Public distrust of law enforcement grows after police kill two unarmed african-american men less than two months apart

Last summer we watched our television screens in disbelief as George Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges for the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The killing of the unarmed teen sparked a racial debate across the nation as the story went viral. Everyday citizens, politicians and celebrities banded together to protest the injustice against Martin. Sadly, the outcome of the trial proved that racial tensions still fly high in the “land of the free”. Unfortunately the unfavorable verdict shines light on an even bigger issue in our country, police brutality and injustice against African-American men.

It was hard to watch as Zimmerman walked away unaffected after senselessly taking the life of an unarmed teenager, however, summer 2014 proved it would not be out done. Eric Garner, an African-American, was 43 years old when Staten Island police officers attempted to place him under arrest for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes. In a video that was recorded by an eyewitness, you will see two officers questioning Garner about selling the untaxed cigarettes. Garner adamantly denies selling anything, as his frustration builds from the continuous harassment he pleads with the officers ‘leave me alone’. Unfortunately they did not, in the video, police officer Daniel Pantaleo is seen placing Garner in a chokehold before four more officers intervene to further subdue Garner. As one officer continued his tight hold around Garner’s neck and another forces his head into the pavement, Garner repeatedly cries out “I can’t breathe.” Moments later Garner lay lifelessly on the ground, and even after EMTs were called to the scene, Garner never regained consciousness.

According to the LA Times the NYPD attempted to cite Garner’s poor health and large size as his cause of death. Patrick Lynch, the President of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association said, “We believe, however, that if he had not resisted the lawful order of the police officers placing him under arrest, this tragedy would not have occurred.” Was it lawful to arrest a man without proving that he in fact sold untaxed cigarettes versus giving him a ticket? Did the infraction even warrant an arrest? Furthermore, chokeholds are considered a violation of department policy, according to New York City Police Commissioner William J. Bratton.

As much as the NYPD would like to believe Garner’s death was result of some pre-existing medical condition, it was not. After conducting an autopsy, the New York City medical examiner’s concluded that Eric Garner’s death was in fact a homicide due to chest and neck compressions. The video clearly shows the officers using excessive force, and their first rebuttal for the unacceptable behavior was to deny responsibility and blame Garner’s health for his untimely death. One of the most heartbreaking factors to consider in this story is the family Eric has left behind; his wife Esaw Garner, and his six children.

Although, Garner is no longer here to comfort or provide for his family, the officers that are responsible for this incident have been given administrative leave. This means that although officer Pantaleo may be stripped of his gun and badge he still receives some form of compensation while ‘out of work’. It is disheartening to witness a man lose his life due to an offense that has yet to be proven, however, Officer Pantaleo is responsible for the death of this man, and hasn’t even seen the back of a police car. A badge does not place you above civil liberties and human life. Incidents such as these only deepen the wedge of distrust between people of color and the police.

The injustice against Garner is still fresh in our minds, unfortunately, the senseless police killing does not end there. 18-year-old Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri was gunned down earlier this week by law enforcement only minutes away from his grandmother’s home. Conflicting stories have surfaced online as to what caused the shooting, but one factor of the story that remains consistent, Brown was unarmed and did not commit a crime. According to CNN there was an altercation between the officer and Brown. Eyewitnesses have come forward with the same story stating that even after the officer fired the first shot, Brown raised his hands in the air stating he was unarmed and not to shoot, the officer fired several more shots that consequently took his life.

Michael Brown was on schedule to begin his freshman year of college the same week he was murdered. The merciless killing was demoralizing enough, however, police officers refuse to deliver pertinent information surrounding the incident like the name of the officer responsible for Brown’s death. Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson had initially promised to deliver the officer’s name, but cited multiple death threats as a cause to withhold the information from the public. The murder in conjunction with the Ferguson police department’s reaction incited riots and protest all over Missouri as well as the country. Many residents of St. Louis and Ferguson have stated through social media that they have been fired at with rubber bullets and tear gas, some residents have been arrested during peaceful and non peaceful protests.

According to the Washington Post our first amendment rights may be at stake as well. Reporter Wesley Lowry of the Washington Post recants using a local McDonald’s to charge his phone while he covered the protests in Ferguson. Officers entered the McDonald’s on a mission to clear it out, knowing that most of the reporters congregated there to recharge their cellphones and laptops. Lowry said he instantly began recording the situation with his cellphone, one officer told him to stop recording, he in return asked, ‘do I not have the right to record you?’ The officer momentarily backed off of Lowry, however, after receiving conflicting directions, the officers felt Lowry and several others did not pack up fast enough and arrested them for trespassing.

Sadly this story is not the first nor is the last of its kind. Several reporters have tweeted that they were being bullied by law enforcement as a means to deter truthful reporting. This is censorship and in direct conflict with our First Amendment rights. However, to complain about freedom of the press seems rudimentary when looking at the lives lost. Smartphones are now the biggest enemy of police officers across the country and probably the only defense the public has in capturing true police behavior. The cellphone footage of Eric Garner’s arrest-turned-murder revealed the truth about what happened in Staten Island earlier this summer. Although Michael Brown’s murder was not caught on video, the reports about the riots and protests as well as the militarization of the police gives a real life look at the intensity of the situation.

There were several instances in both situations where you get the inkling, that this is just wrong. Brown was out right murdered, but the Police chief refused to release the officer’s name because he feared for his safety? Where was Brown’s protection from his untimely death? The crushing reality that senseless killings like this still happens only drives the public to believe that this is personal attack, that it is an “us versus them” situation. How many times will we have to watch unarmed victims be killed because they were “potential suspects” to crimes that were never committed? Furthermore, when will the individuals who are positioned to ‘protect and serve’ do just that, protect and serve? What would they prefer, brush their injustices under the rug, wait until the fray has died down and the riots have ceased? I believe the focus needs to be placed on the retraining of police across the nation, versus focusing their efforts on tedious and demoralizing acts such as New York City’s ‘stop and frisk’ and the most abominable, censorship of the media.

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