If reaction to the situation in Ferguson, Mo. has been bitterly divided along partisan lines, the immediate response to the grand jury’s decision in a police chokehold case in New York City has been anything but.
Eric Garner, a 43-year-old black man, was suspected of selling individual cigarettes (or “loosies”) outside of a Staten Island store in July when he was confronted by several New York City police officers. One of the officers, Daniel Pantaleo, put Garner in a fatal chokehold. The confrontation was captured on video, but a grand jury decided on Wednesday to not indict Pantaleo.
But unlike the decision last week to clear white Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of unarmed black 18-year-old Michael Brown, few conservatives were applauding the grand jury this time around.
Whereas many conservatives said Wilson was simply doing his job, some on Wednesday said Pantaleo was enforcing a punitive big government policy. And while Brown was nothing more than a “thug,” Garner was the victim of the dreaded nanny state.
“A man is killed for selling *unlicensed* drugs by a cop who walks even though it’s all on video: Putting the ‘police’ in pink police state,” tweeted New York Times columnist Ross Douthat on Wednesday.
Douthat was one of several conservative media personalities to seize on New York’s law against selling single, untaxed cigarettes.
Breitbart’s media critic John Nolte made a similar point, calling both Garner’s death and the NYPD’s behavior “inexcusable.”
Eric Garner died cuz he was selling cigs by the single. That’s a crime in NYC. Death is inexcusable. Police behavior sure looked inexcusable
— John Nolte (@NolteNC) December 3, 2014
Conservative radio host Dana Loesch pinned the blame on former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who helped make New York City a national leader in anti-tobacco policies during his time in office.
— Dana Loesch (@DLoesch) December 3, 2014
Loesch also linked to a piece published by the Washington Times in September.
In the piece, Lawrence J. McQuillan argued that “[e]liminating punitive cigarette taxes would shrink the underground market and help redirect police resources to combating real crimes of force and violence, rather than empowering police to employ violence in the name of tax collection.”
National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke likewise used the decision to make an argument against the dreaded g-word.
Government is simply a word for the things we decide to do together. Like choke men to death over rules governing the sale of cigarettes.
— Charles C. W. Cooke (@charlescwcooke) December 3, 2014
Some libertarians employed that argument, too. Writing for the Daily Beast on Wednesday, Reason magazine editor-in-chief Nick Gillespie wondered why the NYPD officers were “so hell-bent on stamping out the sales of loosies, which typically sell for 75 cents a pop in Staten Island .”
“New York City boasts the highest cost for cigarettes in the nation, with a pack ranging anywhere from $12 and up,” he wrote. “The city lays its own taxes on top of the state’s, in an effort both to raise revenue and discourage use of tobacco.”