Police officers have a tough job. We should appreciate their efforts to keep us safe from criminals. In fact, the motto for many police departments is to protect, respect and serve. Most officers do this job admirably. Nevertheless, police brutality (i.e., excessive or unjustified force) against African Americans is still a very common occurrence. Consider the following and recent story of Eric Garner of Staten Island, NY.
On July 17, 2014, NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo and several colleagues are videotaped arresting Mr. Garner. His alleged crime was selling single cigarettes on the streets. During the arrest, the video clearly shows Officer Pantaleo applying a chokehold to Mr. Garner. Eleven times Mr. Garner is heard saying, “I can’t breathe.” At some point, he lost consciousness. When EMS workers arrived, they did virtually nothing to save his life. Sadly, Mr. Garner died shortly thereafter leaving behind six children. According to the NY Daily News, an internal police report failed to mention that Officer Pantaleo applied the chokehold to Mr. Garner. Significant, former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly had banned the use of chokeholds back in 1993.
It Was Homicide
On August 1, 2014, the NYC medical examiner’s (ME) office released its ruling stating that homicide was the manner of death in Mr. Garner’s case. The ruling essentially meant that the chokehold applied by Officer Pantaleo was the cause of death for Mr. Garner. The ME also stated that asthma and other health issues were contributing factors to Mr. Garner’s death.
Despite this ruling, Mr. Garner’s death may not be deemed criminal because a Staten Island grand jury must indict Officer Pantaleo; and given Staten Island’s demographics, the grand jury will likely consist of whites who are sympathetic to Officer Pantaleo, not Mr. Garner. Additionally, the grand jury will likely conclude that Mr. Garner resisted arrest when the video shows him raising his hands defiantly and saying don’t touch me when the officers tried to arrest him. For these reasons, the grand jury will likely not view this case as police brutality. However, the Justice Department could bring federal civil rights charges against Officer Pantaleo.
Tensions Between Blacks and NYPD
Meanwhile, within days of Mr. Garner’s death, another video surfaced showing police brutality against another African American in New York. Specifically, an NYPD officer is videotaped choking an African American woman. These instances of police brutality will inevitably raise tensions again between members of NYC’s African American community and the NYPD. And they should because African Americans everywhere should stand against police brutality.
The NYPD is especially notorious for police brutality against African Americans. Consider the old stop-and-frisk policy of the NYPD under the Bloomberg Administration, a policy that a federal court deemed unconstitutional. Even more heinous cases of police brutality against African Americans within the NYPD were the shooting deaths of Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo as well as the sadistic assault of Abner Louima, to name a few.
However, NYPD is not alone in police brutality against blacks. The torturing of African Americans by Jon Burge of the Chicago Police Department and the ruthless beating of Rodney King by the LAPD are examples of police brutality against blacks in other jurisdictions.
As a practicing criminal defense attorney, I deal with law enforcement every day. Many are personal friends who are fine and honest people. On the other hand, many are out of control thugs or rogues who shouldn’t have badges and guns because they are a threat to public safety, especially African American public safety. They seem to get pleasure brutalizing blacks.
Steps To Decrease Police Brutality Against African Americans
What can be done to decrease police brutality? A comprehensive plan that includes better training for police officers, building trust between police departments and the black community, and aggressively prosecuting rogue police officers could help. Additionally, if you are African American, below are several suggestions to minimize your chances of being brutalized by a police officer:
- AVOID CRIMINAL ACTIVITY. Make sure you have not been involved in any criminal activity. Of course, police officers killed or viciously assaulted Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, and Abner Louima although these victims were innocent of criminal behavior. And even if a person is involved in criminal activity that fact never justifies police brutality. Nevertheless, avoiding criminal activity may hopefully lessen your chances of coming in contact with the officer in the first place.
- DON’T TALK TO THE OFFICER! Give the officer basic and correct information such as name, address, SSN, but nothing else. Don’t volunteer information. Remember, you have the right to be silent.
- REQUEST A LAWYER. If the officer desires to question you about alleged criminal behavior, request a lawyer and remain silent until you have one. If the officer detains and questions you, he must warn you that the government will use everything you say in your prosecution. Take his warning seriously, and keep your mouth shut, whether you are innocent or guilty.
- BE RESPECTFUL. Don’t speak to the officer in a loud threatening tone. Remain calm, cool, and respectful. Yes sir, no sir, yes ma’am, no ma’am may help diffuse any anxieties, tensions or fears the officer may have.
- DON’T RESIST ARREST. If the officer arrests you, don’t resist in any way. Resisting, struggling or defiance greatly increases the chances of the officer charging you with resisting arrest, assault on a public servant or, even worse, killing you. So, do nothing to provoke or fight the officer. It’s a fight you’ll most likely lose both in the streets and at the courthouse. And seldom do grand and regular juries indict or convict officers for police brutality especially when a black person resists arrest. Just let the officer arrest you. That way you can live, bond out of jail and fight your battle in court!
In conclusion, the Supreme Court over the years has given police officers tremendous power in the streets to arrest people. Unfortunately, many officers abuse this power and commit police brutality against blacks especially. Yes, you do have rights and should never be brutalized by the police for any reason but be smart and adjudicate those rights in court, not in the streets, because you cannot adjudicate them from the grave.