viernes, 5 de diciembre de 2014

Eric Garner and the persistence of racial abuse in the U.S.A.

Eric Garner was a 43 year old father of six children, a big black man of nearly 400 pounds, known in his Staten Island neighborhood as “gentle giant.” When he left a store last July 17th, he was suddenly surrounded by police officers accusing him of selling loose cigarettes. “I didn’t do shit!” he protested several times according to a video transmitted across the United States which clearly indicated how he was thrown to the sidewalk and choked to death by officer Daniel Pantaleo. “I was just minding my own business,” Garner insists in the video.
Believe it or not, selling loose cigarettes on the streets of New York City is prohibited, considered a violation of the law. Cigarettes are highly taxed, so reselling them brings in some welcome income for people badly in need of cash. Is it such a violation of the law as to merit violent arrest and, in this case, the death of the suspect?
Garner was unarmed, dressed in a simple white T-Shirt. The attitude of the police angered Garner, but he used no physical violence against the officers. “Every time you see me, you want to mess with me,” he protested. “I’m tired of it…Please just leave me alone!” But the officers paid no heed to Garner. “Don’t touch me!” he shouted as the officers converged on him. Garner, who suffered from chronic asthma, sleep apnea and diabetes, was caught in an illegal chokehold and forced to the ground. In the video you can hear him saying desperately “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!” while an officer bangs his head against the sidewalk. Those were his last words.
On December 3rd a Grand Jury decided that the officers involved were not guilty of any offense and people swarmed to the streets in protest, raising their arms and shouting “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!” New York City Mayor, a progressive Democrat and husband of a black woman, reacted rapidly saying, there was a history, a reality in this situation: “A lot of people feel fear. It’s not that they should, it’s that they do,” he said. “I don’t think denying that reality is going to move us forward.”
This case comes on the heels of another killing of a black man, in Ferguson, Mo., in which a grand jury decided that officer Darren Wilson should not be charged with the death of Michael Brown, an 18 year old unarmed black teenager last August 9th. It also raises the question of racial discrimination, an issue underlying U.S. politics since the freeing of slaves as an aftermath of the U.S. Civil War. A question that arises again and again in spite of recent advances. Although the black population is slightly over 13 percent, the number of black persons killed in circumstances such as that involving Garner is alarmingly high, as is the disproportionate number of black prisoners in the country.
Other cases in which black police officers were not charged for the killings of black persons have been denounced by the Huff Post’s online “Black Voices:”
-- On Sept. 27, 1994, 13-year-old Nicholas Heyward Jr. was playing cops and robbers inside the stairwell of a Brooklyn apartment building. Officer Brian George mistook the boy’s toy gun for a real gun and shot him in the stomach, killing him. Then-Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, who is now facing a range of charges involving the use of public funds,  declined to press charges against George.
-- On Feb. 4, 1999, four NYPD officers in the Bronx fired 41 shots at a 22-year-old immigrant from Guinea named Amadou Diallo. The officers thought he had a gun. It turned out to be a wallet. Diallo, who was unarmed and had committed no crime, was hit by 19 bullets and died, setting off large protests across the city. The four officers involved were all white and were all acquitted of any wrongdoing.
-- On March 1, 2000, just a few days after a jury acquitted the four police officers who killed Amadou Diallo, an undercover cop shot and killed 23-year-old Malcolm Ferguson at his Bronx home. The shooting took place three blocks from the site of Diallo’s death, and Ferguson had been arrested the previous week for protesting the officers’ acquittal in that case. He had seven prior arrests on his record, mainly for dealing drugs. The incident was deemed an accident, and the office Patrick Moses Dorismond, a father of two, was killed by an undercover NYPD officer on March 16, 2000. According to police, Dorismond had become belligerent when the cop, who was with some of his partners, asked him where he could buy some marijuana in the neighborhood. It’s unclear who threw the first punch, but a scuffle ensued, and one of the officers, Anthony Vasquez, ultimately shot Dorismond in the chest, killing him. A friend of Dorismond’s, who was also involved in the fight, claimed the undercover officers never identified themselves as police. A grand jury declined to indict Vasquez.
-- On May 22, 2003, Officer Bryan Conroy, disguised as a postal worker, raided a counterfeit CD/DVD operation at the same warehouse where 43-year-old Ousmane Zongo, an immigrant from Guinea, worked repairing musical instruments. When Zongo encountered the cop, Conroy brandished his weapon and Zongo ran. The chase led to a dead end, where Conroy shot Zongo four times. NYPD officials later admitted that Zongo had nothing to do with the counterfeit operation. Conroy received no jail time. He was sentenced to five years of probation and lost his job
--On Jan. 24, 2004, 19-year-old Tim Stansbury was shot by Officer Richard Neri on the roof of a building in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Stansbury, a McDonald’s employee who was working toward his high school diploma, died. A grand jury declined to indict Neri, who later admitted to pulling the trigger unintentionally. He was permanently stripped of his gun and given a 30-day suspension. e NYPD
-- NYPD Officer Richard Haste shot and killed 18-year-old Ramarley Graham in his grandmother's bathroom in the Bronx on Feb. 2, 2012. Haste had allegedly been responding to reports over police radio that Graham had a gun, but all he had on him was a small bag of marijuana.
--On April 12, 2012, 27-year-old Tamon Robinson ran away from cops after he allegedly stole paving stones from a construction site. (Later, friends said he had permission to take the stones.) During the chase, cops say Robinson ran into their police car. Witnesses, however, say officers intentionally mowed down Robinson, before bouncing him off the hood of the car. Robinson died of his injuries six days later. No charges have been filed against the police involved.
--Kimani Gray, 16, was shot and killed by two police officers in the East Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn on March 9, 2013. The officers allege that Gray pulled a gun on them first, but eyewitnesses dispute the account that Gray was armed. Neither has been charged, and one of the officers, Sgt. Mourad Mourad, received cop of the year award from the NYPD this April. A grand jury decided not to indict Haste for the shooting.
 Stark testimony of abuse appeared in The New York Times Dec. 4, by Erick L. Adams, a retired New York Police Department captain and co-founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care. 
"I can recall it as if it were yesterday,” he wrote. “Looking into the toilet and seeing blood instead of urine. That was the aftermath of my first police encounter.”  As a 15-year-old, living in South Jamaica, Queens, I was arrested on a criminal trespass charge after unlawfully entering and remaining in the home of an acquaintance. Officers took me to the 103rd Precinct — the same precinct where an unarmed Sean Bell was later shot and killed by the police — and brought me into a room in the basement. They kicked me in the groin repeatedly. Out of every part of my body, that’s what they targeted. Then I spent the night in Spofford juvenile detention center.
“For seven days after that, I stared into the toilet bowl in my house at the blood I was urinating. I kept telling myself that if it didn’t clear up by the next day, I would share this shame and embarrassment with my mother, although I could never bring myself to start that conversation. When clear urine returned, I thought I was leaving that moment behind me. I never told anyone this, not even my mother, until I was an adult.
"As I attempted to put that shame and attack on my manhood away, new horror stories kept compelling me to relive those memories: the nightmare experiences of Randolph Evans, Patrick Dorismond, Abner Louima and countless other young men have reminded me of my own secret. Think of all the secrets that young men of color are hiding. How many are concealing some dark truth of the abuse they endured, and what is that darkness doing to them?
“In order to finally bring this darkness into the light of day, our nation must address the foundation of this crisis. That starts with acknowledging that the training taught in police academies across the country is not being applied in communities of color. After six months in the police academy, that instruction is effectively wiped out by six days of being taught by veteran cops on the streets.”
There are also a number of other burning issues the country must confront—the situation of millions of undocumented residents, the unending war in the Middle East—which has not received Congressional approval and therefore is illegal—exorbitant medical costs in spite of President Barrack Obama’s success in getting a medical care program approved, and the persistence of unemployment and poverty in the face of unprecedented profits by the growing class of multimillionaires.

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