ESR rightly identifies a problem much worse than racism:
Eric Garner was black. The policeman who choked him to death was white.
Some people want to make this horror about race. I find myself wishing they were right – that just once, the racial grievance peddlers weren’t basically making up inflammatory crap that canonizes thug trash like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. Because as bad as violent racism is, I’m afraid that what actually killed Eric Garner was something far worse.
The truly terrifying thing about Eric Garner’s death is that I don’t think the cops in that video hated anybody. They were just doing their job. And their job included strangling a man to death for having sold “loosies” – untaxed cigarettes. Something he wasn’t doing when he was killed; he had just broken up a fight that the police came to investigate.
Garner had just broken up a fight. The police hassled him, based on his record as a (gasp!) vendor of untaxed cigarettes, and when he protested the force of law came down on him and snuffed him.
In 1835 Alexis de Tocqueville wrote a book called Democracy In America that has been justly celebrated for its perception about the young American republic ever since. In it, he warned of the dangers of what he called “soft despotism” – that “covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules”, all justified in soothing ways to achieve worthy objectives. Such as discouraging people from smoking by heavily taxing cigarettes.
Eric Garner died in a New York minute because “soft despotism” turned hard enough to kill him in cold blood. There was no anger there, no hate; the police simply failed to grasp the moral disproportion between the “crimes” he wasn’t even committing at the time and their use of force. And an investigating grand jury did no better.
Violent racists, as evil as they are, generally understand on some level that they’re doing wrong. That understanding is written all over the excuses they make. These cops didn’t need an excuse. They were doing their job. They were enforcing the law. The casual, dispassionate, machinelike brutality with which Garner was strangled reveals a moral vacuum more frightening than mere racism could ever be.
Americans find themselves living in a country where people can be freely killed, without hesitation or consequences, by the police for the “crime” of simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. To call it “the Land of the Free” is darkly morbid sarcasm indeed.
The anger expressed in the Ferguson riots was misplaced, but not entirely illegitimate. There is a serious cancer in the United States and it has fully metastasized in the police forces across the country. It is yet another sign that all is not right on Main Street USA these days.