There aren’t too many people out there defending New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo or the decision by a grand jury not to indict him in the death of Eric Garner.
The dearth of defenders likely stems from the disturbing footage of Pantaleo placing Garner, who had been suspected of selling individual cigarettes outside of a Staten Island store, in a fatal chokehold.
“I will say, that upon seeing the video that you just saw, and hearing Mr. Garner say he could not breathe, I was extremely troubled,” Fox News host Bill O’Reilly said on Wednesday night. “I would have loosened my grip. I desperately wish the officer would have done that.”
Garner should not have resisted arrest, O’Reilly said, but the 43-year-old unarmed black man “did not deserve what happened to him.”
“And I think Officer Pantaleo and every other American police officer — every one — would agree with me,” O’Reilly said. “He didn’t deserve that.”
He might be surprised. While most share O’Reilly’s grief about Garner’s fate, certain politicians, commentators and law enforcement personnel have turned the death into a lesson about the dangers of resisting arrest.
That’s in contrast with the recent case of Ferguson, Mo. police officer Darren Wilson, who had a broader array of defenders in the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, and who was also cleared by a grand jury.
Bishop E.W. Jackson, the former GOP nominee for lieutenant governor in Virginia with a history of outlandish remarks about homosexuality and abortion, was quick to place responsibility on Garner.
Jackson joined Fox News host Neil Cavuto on Thursday afternoon to condemn New York Mayor Bill de Blasio for invoking America’s “centuries of racism” in his reaction to the grand jury decision.
“Neil, it’s preposterous. What happened in New York is not the result of three centuries, however many centuries, of racial oppression. It’s the result of a young man having made the decision to resist arrest,” Jackson said. “And when you do that, things are not going to end well. It’s tragic, it’s terrible. But how about teaching the young people when the police make a request, cooperate with them rather than resisting them?”
Jackson said his own positive experiences with law enforcement should serve as a model for others to follow.
“I’ve had 100 or more interactions with police and I have never had a police officer mistreat me because I don’t mistreat them,” he said. “We’ve got to start talking about teaching young people how to behave themselves with respect. That doesn’t mean that we want people to die or that this is a good thing, but it means there’s responsibility on the side of individuals in their interactions with police.”
After days of offering up racially charged commentaries on the situation in Ferguson, the former New York City mayor defended Pantaleo on Thursday.
In Brown and Garner, Giuliani explained on “Fox & Friends,” police were up against two criminals.
“And remember, in both of these cases, Mr. Brown had committed at least two felonies, possibly three during that incident. So the police officer was dealing with a criminal,” Giuliani said. “And in this case, the police officer was dealing with a criminal who was resisting arrest. Maybe if Mr. Brown hadn’t committed his crimes and this gentleman hadn’t resisted arrest, they wouldn’t be dead today.”
Giuliani said he didn’t know all the facts, but he suspected the “case was presented just in a very professional way.”
“And the grand jury reached a result that I’m sure they believe was right,” he said.
The New York Post’s Bob McManus
Bob McManus went even further than Giuliani in a widely panned column for the New York Post on Thursday. In the headline of his piece, McManus argued that blame should be placed only on “the man who tragically decided to resist.” Like Rudy, McManus also dredged up Garner’s history.
Eric Garner was a career petty criminal who’d experienced dozens of arrests, but had learned nothing from them. He was on the street July 17, selling untaxed cigarettes one at a time — which, as inconsequential as it seems, happens to be a crime.
Yet another arrest was under way when, suddenly, Garner balked. “This ends here,” he shouted — as it turned out, tragically prophetic words — as he began struggling with the arresting officer.
Again, this was a bad decision. Garner suffered from a range of medical ailments — advanced diabetes, plus heart disease and asthma so severe that either malady might have killed him, it was said at the time.
Still, he fought — and at one point during the struggle, a cop wrapped his arm around Garner’s neck.
It wasn’t the first time the Post was critical of Garner. In a love letter to the NYPD back in August, the tabloid’s editorial board took aim at a march to protest Garner’s death.
‘[The march] was supposedly motivated by the death of Eric Garner (who died after resisting cops who were trying to arrest him for . . . selling illegal, untaxed cigarettes)…Yes, we feel terrible about Garner’s death (though he’d likely be alive if he hadn’t resisted arrest). But there’s no proof — at this point, anyway — that the cops trying to arrest him did anything unlawful,” the board wrote.
Shortly after the grand jury announced its decision on Wednesday, Kerik called in to CNN to discuss the case. As with several others in the law enforcement community, the former NYPD commissioner defended Pantaleo.
Kerik, who served more than three years in federal prison on fraud charges, called Garner’s death “tragic” and conceded that the victim was engaged in a “very minor crime.” But Kerik also contended that Pantaleo was just doing his job and Garner should have cooperated.
“The problem is the police officer, when he is effecting an arrest, he doesn’t have the ability to say, ‘Oh, well, this is a minor crime so I’m going to arrest in a different way. I’m going to do something differently,'” Kerik said in the phone interview. “Once that police officer says, ‘You’re under arrest,’ you are obligated to comply with that arrest. And, obviously, Mr. Garner, based on the tape, did not comply. He resisted. That resistance escalated into a position where the officers effected a restraining hold that turned into a chokehold, if you will — or whatever they want to call it — and this man died while he was resisting arrest. It’s unfortunate. It happens.”
When Kerik made that same point during an appearance on Fox News on Wednesday night, host Megyn Kelly pushed back.
“Why do you say he’s resisting?” Kelly said after showing footage of Garner’s arrest. “What part of this is resisting?”
Kerik reiterated that officers have the right “to use force” if someone is resisting an arrest. He also said that Garner’s size was likely a factor in the incident.
“Look, I saw the size of this man. I saw the size of the officer. If I was that officer, I’d be extremely concerned about this guy, his size, his power,” Kerik told Kelly. “And I’m sure that’s why the takedown was taken.”
Rep. Peter King (R-NY)
The longtime New York congressman also drew attention to Garner’s size, arguing during several media appearances on Wednesday and Thursday that Garner wouldn’t have died from the chokehold if he weren’t “obese.” And like Kerik, King stressed that Garner had been defiant to the NYPD.
“You had a 350-pound person who was resisting arrest. The police were trying to bring him down as quickly as possible,” King said Wednesday on CNN. “If he had not had asthma and a heart condition and was so obese, almost definitely he would not have died from this. The police had no reason to know he was in serious condition.”
Garner could be heard on the video telling the officer that he couldn’t breathe, but King was skeptical of those pleas.
“But if you can’t breathe, you can’t talk,” he said.
Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ)
King’s position is shared by at least one of his Republican House colleagues. During an interview on Newsmax TV, Rep. Matt Salmon asserted that “justice was served” in the decision to clear Pantaleo.
“The process of indicting is a pretty easy one, and so the fact that this, you know, this officer wasn’t indicted speaks volumes that it was clear to the grand jury that he operated under the scope of his authority and he did, you know, what any reasonable officer would have done to subdue somebody that was resisting arrest,” Salmon said. “And all I’m saying is that that is the process by which our country operates, and justice was served. That’s the way the process works, and, y’know, I can’t really expound on it any more.”
The Arizona congressman said he didn’t believe that Pantaleo “operated incorrectly, and that’s because the grand jury decided not to indict.”