Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Lessons from Eric Garner

In the aftermath of the awful failure to indict Eric Garner's killer today in New York City - Staten Island, to be more precise - I can think of at least three important lessons we can get from this, as we all seek to create a world with fewer such killings of unarmed people by police in the future:

1. Guns are not the ultimate problem.   Eric Garner, after all, was choked to death by a police officer. What this means, even though it might sound like an NRA mantra, if that law-abiding citizens have little to fear from good cops with guns, but are in dire danger from bad cops with just sticks and strong arms.  I think our world would indeed be far better off with fewer guns.  But the ultimate source of the depravity that took Eric Garner's life is a reckless disregard for human life in the hearts and minds of all too many police officers.

2.  Body cams will help, but will not completely remedy this deadly problem.  There was a video, after all, of Eric Garner and the last moments of his life.   It's heart-wrenching and infuriating to watch, but apparently had no effect on the Grand Jury.  In this case, the medium was not the message, or failed to deliver it.  Again, what we most need are not police with body cams but police divested of their reckless disregard for human life.

3. The DA is obviously a big part of this problem - and we learned this not only today, but with the Grand Jury's failure to indict Michael Brown's killer in Ferguson last week.  As many have suggested, a special prosecutor should have been appointed in both cases - that is, a prosecutor with no working ties with the very police under possible indictment.  The law should be changed to make this mandatory.

It strikes me that all of three lessons might be taken to heart by conservatives as well as progressives. This is not an anti-gun or a pro-body-cam campaign.   It's rather an insistence that people who become police not display a depraved indifference to human life - and, when they do, they be held to account for their actions.

See also The Prosecutor Attacks the Media

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