For just a moment, you can have sympathy for the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri. They didn't have multiple video recordings of the minutes when Michael Brown had his run-in with Darren Wilson. No one had their phones pointed at the street when Wilson shot Brown. No one captured the moment he died. If only for a second, you can feel a bit of pity for the jurors because of what the prosecutor forced them to wade through, for having to figure out if deadly force was necessary without such readily obvious evidence. And that second can only exist while you are burning with anger at the grand jury on Staten Island that just declined to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo for choking Eric Garner to death when Garner was accused of selling untaxed cigarettes.
Because, see, this one, this murder of a black man by a white cop, is even worse, if that's possible. Because, see, we had videos. We saw what happened, from multiple angles. We saw Pantaleo put Garner in a chokehold that is banned by the NYPD. We heard Garner beg for air as cops piled on him. We watched the cops shove and poke Garner, believing he was faking it when he was either dying or was already dead. We saw the EMTs not attempt any resuscitation. We read or heard that the coroner declare that Garner's death was a homicide committed by Pantaleo. Using a banned method to kill someone? Doesn't that on its face seem to demand charges?
What the fuck else did you need to go to a trial? Really. What the fuck else? I keep hearing Michael Brown's stepfather, yelling in agony to "Burn this bitch down," and he sounds like a mad prophet, not a thug.
The message to African Americans is simple: "You must comply or we will fucking kill you." If I were a cop, I'd be scared to death and really pissed off. I'd want the grand juries to indict. I'd want the cops who fuck up to be put on trial, to be sent to prison. Because this is how revolutions start. This is what inspires real insurgent violence. When you, as a citizen, no longer believe the authorities are there to protect you but are a threat to your safety? When you're cornered and your choice is to fight or be murdered without any consequences for the murderers? That's a tipping point. The violent cops are undermining not just police departments, but the shaky structure of America itself.
We're at a crossroads. Next up is the Tamir Rice case in Cleveland. Before that, we'll no doubt be subjected to the parade of grotesque conservatives declaring that Eric Garner was wrong, that he just should have submitted, that he brought it on himself. Yet, as with Michael Brown, none of those have any relevance on why he was killed, why his pleas were insignificant, why his death was unnecessary, why the grand jury's decision is so unsurprising. Something has to change in cop culture, in our undying American racism, in our white selves, but I don't know if we're capable of it anymore.
"Who can control the Police Department? We had a damn video tape," Garner's father said today. Both he and Garner's mother called for protests to stay peaceful. Maybe that's right, if for no other reason than to show who the thugs really are.