Monday, December 8, 2014

Richard Cohen: Decision in New York City exacerbates mistrust in justice system

  The decision by the Staten Island grand jury not to indict the police officer who choked Eric Garner to death in July cries out for an explanation. Without it, the anger being expressed across the country will only intensify.

  Some have suggested that Garner was to blame because he supposedly resisted arrest. But that’s beside the point.

  When the New York City Police Department banned chokeholds more than 20 years ago, then-Chief John F. Timoney said that difficult suspects should be detained in the “safest possible way.” Too many people were dying.

  The fact is, Garner – who was merely suspected of selling loose cigarettes – posed no threat to the many officers who surrounded him. And, it’s clear from the widely circulated video that officers certainly heard him say, repeatedly, that he could not breathe.

  Eric Garner did not have to die.

  Coming on the heels of the St. Louis grand jury’s decision not to indict the white officer who killed Michael Brown, the decision in the Garner case has exacerbated the growing mistrust between the police and communities of color throughout the nation.

  Our nation must search for answers. Our communities are not war zones, and we cannot accept a mentality that leads some officers to see them that way.

  Law enforcement officials at every level must examine their procedures, their culture, their training, and the way suspects are treated. And we must all insist on a high standard of conduct and accountability for those in positions of power over their fellow citizens.

  About the author: Richard Cohen is president of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

  This article was published by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

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