It’s Not a Crime to Kill a Black Man

Eric Garner

I hit a breaking point today.

I’ve had moments of anger and frustration as I’ve read, talked to, and dealt with racist idiots from every background. Today’s breaking point stemmed from the announcement that the Grand Jury would not be indicting police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner, a man who died as the result of being choked by the officer.

What makes this incident so poignant is that the entire thing was caught on video. Unlike the Ferguson incident, Pantaleo vs. Garner is not a case where we have only the survivor’s version to be corroborated or repudiated by the coroner’s report. It is intense, so if you aren’t keen on such content, you can skip the video.

Everyone can clearly see Officer Pantaleo choking Mr. Garner. It’s indisputable. It BOGGLES my mind that the grand jury would not indict. Many others are blown away. Those of us who are shocked and, yes, I’ll say it, outraged, by the behavior of the grand jury are crying out for justice. It is not just that a law enforcement officer can break departmental guidelines (the NYPD banned the chokehold in 1993 – NY cops have had over 20 years to learn this lesson) but that the officer’s behavior that led to the death of the civilian does not carry criminal punishment.

I confess, I am not a lawyer.

I have, however, seen every single episode of Law & Order (yes, all 20 seasons). That pretty much makes me an expert in all things New York and the criminal justice system (if I have to tell you I’m not serious you just need to close this right now – right now – don’t even read another word).

No, I’m no lawyer, but I’m an intelligent human. I know some big words like manslaughter and negligence. Even criminals in the middle of a felony can be charged with felony murder if someone dies in the commission of their felony – even when the death was not intentional. Since Mr. Garner died as the direct result of Officer Pantaleo’s actions, it seems just that the man responsible ought to suffer consequences.

Yes, this is a justice issue.

That means it OUGHT to be a Christian issue.

It took me all of 10 seconds to run a search in the Bible (ESV) and see that the word justice appears 138 times.

Genesis 18:19 ~ For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.

— How do you keep the way of the Lord? By doing righteousness and justice.

and

Exodus 23:6 ~ You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his lawsuit.

— Everyone gets equal justice, regardless of wealth or status.

and

Deuteronomy 16:19 ~ You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous.

— Justice is meted out with equality without favoritism.

and

Psalm 82:3 ~ Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.

— The underdog and disenfranchised has a God-given right to justice.

and

Matthew 23:23 ~ Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

— Showy religion is no good without justice, mercy, and faithfulness.

Are you getting the picture? God cares about justice. We should care about justice.

But then come the rebuttals:

– “The Grand Jury decision stands – you should accept it and move on” (I was actually told this today).

This is foolishness. Grand juries are made up of fallible humans. They don’t speak with divine authority. They are not the end-all of the justice system. No matter how hard we try, there is always something in us that skews how we see things. We approach all of life with an interpretive lens. The difficult thing in moving past racial tensions is to learn to see others through their own lenses rather than our own.

If a system has flaws and errors it is our obligation to speak up and to fix those errors, not to sit back and let injustice rule the day and try to “move on.”

– This is only an issue because of race-baiters who want a “war on whites.”

This is not foolishness. This is the most idiotic thing I’ve ever heard. Eric Garner didn’t need to die. Eric Garner shouldn’t have died. The fact that he died and that the criminally negligent perpetrator is not being charged is an abortion of justice, the kind of justice God repeatedly calls us to pursue.

This is not a race issue. This is a humanity issue. It should not have mattered what ethnic groups were involved. It should not matter what YOUR ethnic background is. This story should stir us all.

This is not a race issue. This is a humanity issue.

What saddens me about white America’s response (yes, I’m going to make a broad, sweeping generalization) is that, rather than listening to the outcry of the Black community and those who stand in solidarity, many are trying to deflect. Deflecting is an argumentation technique where a person who feels attacked/criticized tries to steer the conversation in another direction RATHER than addressing the issue at hand. We do it all the time. My wife and I do it to each other. We now call each other on it. She’ll tell me, “You’re deflecting. Can we talk about what I’m saying?”

White America is deflecting. Rather than listening we throw up statistics and bluster, “Well, why don’t you make a fuss about black-on-black crime?” or “What about the little white boy that was killed by three evil brown-skinned thugs?”

That’s deflecting.

Instead of addressing the issue at hand we try to make it about other issues.

Stop it.

From a biblical point of view, Jesus addresses it best when he tells us that we ought to treat other people the way that we would like to be treated.

It’s that little thing we sometimes call THE GOLDEN RULE. If I want people to hear me and care about injustice being done to me, I should listen and care about injustice done to others. Stop looking at the issue through a persecuted white lens and start to see that sometimes injustice actually DOES happen to minorities. Imagine that!

In all of my legal expertise I have no idea where things will go from here. In my reading of the Bible I can tell you that we need to change our lenses and treat others the way we want to be treated.

We need to be people that pursue justice – for every race.

Do me a favor and share this post, would you? This is a message that everyone needs to hear.

Related Posts:
Reflections on Racism From a Mixed-Race Couple
Just One More White Man Commenting On Ferguson
It’s Great Being White!
My Kids Don’t Know They’re Black

18 Replies to “It’s Not a Crime to Kill a Black Man”

  1. Chris,
    I’m really bothered by this post. Here’s where I’m coming from:
    1 – I think that the law against selling loose cigs is ridiculous. So I’m with you there.
    2 – I think the man’s death is a tragedy.
    3 – I think it was an unlawful death.
    So I’m with you on all those things.

    But saying that this is some great injustice is, in my opinion, ridiculous. It was an accident. Do you honestly believe it was the intent of the police officer here to kill Mr. Garner? He put the guy in a choke hold – that doesn’t normally kill people and the normal reaction to a chokehold is saying “I can’t breathe.”

    I think it was an act of stupidity – but not an act of malice, I certainly don’t think it was racially motivated. You are in the army, what would happen in the army if a private resisted arrest by an MP (even for something stupid) – I think they would take him down, by whatever means necessary.

    Here’s what I think should happen. I think the police officer should be fired for breaking a regulation. I think the police department should be liable in civil court to pay a wrongful death suit to the man’s family. But beyond that, I think the whole thing should be left at what it was – an unfortunate accident that came at just the right time to get national attention and keep the flames fanned against the police.

    I’ve got black family just like you, but I also have multiple family members who are police officers. You are 120 times more likely to be killed as a police officer in this country than by a police officer. The majority of the people who are killed by police officers are killed in armed resistance. Our policemen do an awesome job and the insinuation that they are a bunch of racists who don’t think black lives matter is ridiculous.

    I have a good friend who is a black man, grew up in the projects, and became a police officer. I remember him telling me that once he had to kill a man (also a black man from the projects) who was resisting arrest and ended up being unarmed. He wasn’t censured. Was that racist?

    Police officers get the benefit of the doubt for a good reason. That is just.

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    1. I didn’t say the death was racially motivated. I didn’t say the death was intentional or malicious. I am saying that causing someone’s death by using a forbidden technique (and yes, I know people debate whether or not it WAS a chokehold) is criminally negligent.

      I work with cops. I like cops. I trust cops. Saying that this man should be punished for what happened isn’t saying that cops are evil.

      I AM saying that it is entirely possible for a system to be slanted against minorities and thus be a racist system, even if individuals within that system are not racist. It is more difficult for brown-skinned people than for whites. This is true in business and the justice system and society at large.

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  2. While I am one of the first people to condemn unjust actions by police, and I definitely do not want to interact with the NYPD ever, this was absolutely a legitimate and warranted use of reasonable force.
    The man was breaking the law. How difficult is it to understand that? Whether or not you agree with the law, and I do not, it is still the law. They attempted to place him under arrest, and he resisted. That will never end well. The police will always take you into custody. Once they put their hands on you they will not back down. It is a tragedy that he died, but he brought it on himself. The restraining hold was not about the cigarettes, it was about taking an uncooperative suspect into custody. The plainclothes officers told him they were going to cost him, and he started swatting their hands away. At that point it escalated from a relatively benign arrest into a physical altercation over resisting arrest, which happens to be another crime. When he continued to resist, additional manpower kept being added until he was subdued. Had he merely put his hands behind his back we ordered to do so by the arresting officer, he would in all likelihood would be sitting at home with his wife, children, and grandchildren now.
    Also, some of you actually need to learn the facts. This was not a chokehold. That was the one bit of sanity in the TYT video. It was a legal and relatively gentle take down maneuver, and the cop appears to have released or relaxed that hold once the other officers piled in. Apparently Garner had used this “can’t breathe” excuse on previous arrests, and he had 30 of them. Anyone ever heard of the boy who cried wolf?
    Incidentally, it was also a black female sergeant who was overseeing this entire arrest scenario.
    I have had multiple encounters with law-enforcement, both from vehicles and while afoot. In the vast majority of these cases I have been carrying a gun, often openly. I am not a cop, nor do I have ties to any law enforcement agency. I merely obey the law and comply with orders given to me by law enforcement. Even when their directives have been ridiculous, even when their directives have been slightly outside the realm of their authority, I comply and remain respectful. Thus far this policy has kept me from getting shot, and has even kept me from ever being arrested.
    Finally, it most definitely IS a crime to kill a black man. The arresting officers who participated in the takedown and restraint of this individual did not intend to kill him, and they employed reasonable force that under ordinary circumstances does not even result in injury, much less death. Garner’s criminal activity, poor health, and pre-existing conditions caused his death. And I’m pretty sure I read somewhere in the Bible something about bearing false witness. Nice job as a pseudo-Christian rag writing a flat out lie as a headline in order to garner more views in this race baiting game. Keep it classy.

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    1. **in second paragraph it should be “cuff” rather than “cost,” also “when ordered” rather than “we ordered.” The joys of communicating via smartphone.

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    2. 1. This is not a “Christian rag” – it’s my personal blog.
      2. The title isn’t race-baiting, it’s fact based on the last 2 times we’ve seen a LEO kill a black man with no legal repercussion
      3. If that is acceptable force for dealing with a suspect then our police have too much power
      4. The response of white conservatives, even if right on the facts, has generally lacked compassion and grace.

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      1. “The last 2 times we’ve seen a LEO kill a black man with no legal repercussion.”
        And in both cases, a mixed race jury of the LEO’s peers determined that there wasn’t enough factual evidence to indict the police officer. That’s how it works in our country. It isn’t a system designed to protect LEOs, it’s a system designed to protect accused criminals.
        The theory of justice that our system is based on is that it is better to let a guilty man go free than to punish the innocent. That, by the way, is a biblical concept.
        You don’t fix the injustice of racism with injustice against individual police officers.

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        1. The appearance lately is that cops can do pretty much anything in the line of duty and walk away without penalty.

          The theory of justice in our system is that the jury decides guilt or innocence. The grand jury is not the place to decide that. Not even to indict is what people are upset about.

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      2. 1. Well, I’m glad that we cleared up that this isn’t a Christian site, the name of the blog combined with your “pastor” title was a bit misleading.
        2. Chris, the title most definitely is race-baiting. If you weren’t disgustingly preying on racial tensions to increase traffic flow to your “personal blog” you could have more accurately written something along the lines of “It’s Not A Crime When a Criminal Dies While Resisting Arrest.” Let’s make this very simple and very clear. Once the determination has been made that absolutely no laws have been broken, the legal system is prohibited from meting out any “repercussions” upon innocent persons. That is what it is designed to do, not to go on a witch-hunt simply to appease an ignorant mob.
        3. Where was it proven that the “chokehold” directly caused Garner’s death? What I’ve read indicates that it was the combination of poor physical condition, asthma, pressure on his chest, stress of the confrontation, etc. In case you hadn’t noticed, Garner was still alive and protesting long after the hold was released. He was not strangled. Police are definitely permitted to use the force required to affect the arrest of a suspect. Garner resisted arrest, struggled against the officers, and could have caused serious bodily harm to any of those arresting officers. This was nowhere close to being excessive force. They were actually quite gentle with this arrest and showed decent restraint. They merely piled in and subdued an uncooperative suspect. Excessive force or “too much power” would have been if they all started beating him or using more than the force Garner himself was requiring them to use to arrest him. What kind of a messed-up world do you want us to live in, where police have to back off from arresting criminals every time one says “I can’t breathe” or “leave me alone”?
        4. And now we get to the root of the issue: your feelings are hurt. Grow up, start living in the real world. Here we deal in facts, in truth. Get used to it. We have little use for people getting their feelings hurt every time something not-nice happens to a criminal when he is in commission of a crime.

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        1. 1. This is a Christian blog and I am a pastor.
          2. Not race-baiting or preying on tensions. I was addressing the tensions.
          3. You are foolish to think the choke did not trigger the death. I never said he died of strangulation, only that the officer’s action led to the man’s death.
          4. My feelings are not hurt. You assume facts not proven. Garner was suspected but there is no proof that he was currently committing a crime.

          You say you have no time for this – that’s fine. I doubt further discussion would be fruitful. I’m also done. Any further comments will be deleted.

          Thx for reading.

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  3. I do agree that it is horrible that issues are being turned into a race vs race thing.
    We ARE equals! ALL created in God’s image. There is no “better color”. Currently I live in South Korea and am a minority here. We are all unique and planned with purpose. It is tragic the way specific groups of people have been treated in the past. Non Christians, Jews, and people based on race and location. I cannot erase the crusades any more than I can erase things my ancestors may or may not have done to human beings with brown/black skin. (I can trace my family history back over 200 years and do know not everyone felt the same as I do regarding equality). BUT I’d certainly like to think my family has learned from mistakes and taught younger generations what is and is not acceptable. Different ethnicity does not mean unequal. I am very sorry for how idiotic my ancestors were. But I should not grovel or feel ashamed of who I personally am because of my ethnicity and the stupid ways my ethnicity has behaved throughout history. I am ashamed of how my ancestors treated others. (I also have ancestors who were slaves to the Mohave Tribe) But that is not ME.

    People do need to stop pointing at others and blaming race. They need to blame their own actions. Their own attitudes. And they need to stop blaming poor choices ON their race – no matter what their race is. (Even if others have behaved in a hurtful way towards them) We are all accountable to God for OUR actions – right or wrong. That right there tells me we are all equal. He cares enough about our PERSONAL lives that he WANTS to pour out his blessings upon us – if we would accept his wonderful love and truly listen to what he has to say to us. Love covers a multitude of sins. Hate solves NOTHING. Bad actions = consequences. And for those who seem to get off free and clear unfairly – they face a much more fearsome judgment – and they should be prayed for and pitied. (Or just prayed for – some people are hard to pity lol!)

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  4. Thanks for the time and courage required to write this post. We can come up with a million excuses for police actions, but it really does seem that your headline is correct. If a similar set of events were happening between a majority and minority group in other countries, many Americans would be decrying the lack of human rights.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s pretty simple to me, unless one has had access to all the information, reports and evidence the Grand Jury had access to, you are not in a place to judge. I don’t care if it was caught on video, that is just one piece of evidence in an entire puzzle they are required to put together before they make a decision. To not know and understand this before blasting one side or the other is irresponsible!

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  6. “It doesn’t matter how many times someone is arrested, brutality is brutality. The idea that the officers felt this force was necessary over the suspicion of selling loose cigarettes is ludicrous.”

    Chris. When someone resists arrest that is what happens. You are subdued. The ok, ok, I give up defense is out the window.

    “Mr. Garner was non-violent. The officers did not need to violently take him down, using holds that the NYPD has banned for decades.”

    When Mr. Garner defensively puts up his hands and pushes a policeman away he’s going to the ground.

    I think if you do a bit more research you’ll discover that the hold the cop put on him was an acceptable hold and it wasn’t a choke hold. Grabbing someone around the neck is not a choke hold. It is a maneuver that police are trained to use as both self defense and in subduing suspects. The fact that you don’t think so does not make it any less true.

    We’re on the same side Chris.

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  7. “Since Mr. Garner died as the direct result of Officer Pantaleo’s actions, it seems just that the man responsible ought to suffer consequences.”

    Um, no. Mr. Garner died as a direct result of his own actions and the officers reaction to them. No one pointed a gun at Mr. Garner’s head and forced him to be arrested over 30 times for similar ridiculous offenses and no one pointed a gun to Mr. Garners head when he began to resist arrest. Perhaps police should now be obligated to give offenders a warning: “If you resist arrest not only will you charged with a crime but you will be subdued by force. You may be injured in the process. This is not negotiable.”

    A horrible and tragic thing happened and I think you wrote a great post but to not see that Garner does not hold responsibility also for actions is plainly silly. Sorry.

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    1. “No one pointed a gun at Mr. Garner’s head and forced him to be arrested over 30 times for similar ridiculous offenses”

      It doesn’t matter how many times someone is arrested, brutality is brutality. The idea that the officers felt this force was necessary over the suspicion of selling loose cigarettes is ludicrous.

      “no one pointed a gun to Mr. Garners head when he began to resist arrest. Perhaps police should now be obligated to give offenders a warning: “If you resist arrest not only will you charged with a crime but you will be subdued by force.”

      Mr. Garner was non-violent. The officers did not need to violently take him down, using holds that the NYPD has banned for decades. And yes, warning a non-violent protestor that they will be forcibly arrested is not a bad idea.

      Like

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