8 Dec 2014

It won't be easy reining in America's 'chokehold police'

As President Barack Obama and other voices of authority try to reassure the nation that they can bring police abuse under control, a voice of true street-level power is speaking, too.
That voice belongs to Patrick Lynch, and it is frightening. Americans would do well to listen.
Lynch is the president of New York's police union, a man described by his own organization as the most powerful police union chief in the world.
As Newsweek has put it, Lynch represents not just cops, but "what it means to be a cop in America, where guns are legal and restraint is rare." 
And to Patrick Lynch, the cellphone video of a black man locked by a white officer in an officially forbidden chokehold, and grunting repeatedly that he couldn't breathe, was essentially unremarkable. As was Eric Garner's death a few minutes later.
"If you're speaking, you can breathe," he told a press conference, praising the grand jury that last week refused to indict one of his members in Garner's death. (A coroner had ruled the death a homicide.)
Parse that statement, and the menace reveals itself.
In the view of New York's police union — and, no doubt, a significant percentage of street-level police officers in this country — if you can suck enough air into your lungs to gasp out that you cannot breathe, then you must be able to breathe, and therefore you're lying, and therefore there is no reason to release the chokehold.
Conversely, of course, if you actually cannot breathe, you wouldn't be able to speak at all, and therefore you'd be unable to communicate that to the policeman choking you, so how is that policeman supposed to realize he should stop?
Either way, by this piece of street-cop logic, it's not the policeman's fault. It's yours. And either way, you may very well wind up dead, which is also your fault. 
Lynch made that clear, too.
"Mr. Garner made a choice that day to resist arrest," he told the cameras.
Had he just given in immediately, "he knew he'd go to the station house and … be out by the end of the day. But, unfortunately the choice was not a good choice and unfortunately we all live with the tragedy of that death."

'I can't breathe'

Well, not quite. Eric Garner doesn't get to live with anything anymore.
An awful lot of Americans, from the tens of thousands of protesters chanting "I CAN'T BREATHE" to officials and lawmakers, Democrat and Republican, have denounced the grand jury's refusal to indict, viewing it as tacit approval of extreme, unnecessary violence. 
As U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand put it, no unarmed person should die on a New York street corner because he's suspected of some trifling offence. Garner was accosted by police for allegedly selling loose cigarettes, which he vociferously denied having done.
But the beat cop view is that there's a larger issue here: refusal to submit.
Garner's real crime was to tell police he was sick of being rousted, that it had to stop and, when officers moved in, to get their hands off him.
Police tend to hold the view that citizens have no right to resist, no matter how unfairly they're being treated, and no matter how abusively police might be wielding their considerable powers.
Try to protect yourself from a police beating, and you'll only be beaten more severely, and likely charged with assaulting your assaulter.


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