A couple weeks ago, I spent my Saturday afternoon in Staten Island protesting the NYPD-caused choking death of Eric Garner. I did more than the mandatory minimum for guilty white liberals–I not only got a few protest buttons (which I handed out to other guilty white liberals), I also played guitar in a protest group that included folks from the Occupy Wall Street Guitarmy. Lots of renditions of ‘eyes on the prize’ along with a few new songs about Garner (and Michael Brown of Ferguson fame). I was called on to murder some bar chords.
And it wasn’t much of a march per se. The march was supposed to jump off going south toward the spot where Garner was choked to death. But nobody moved south. Reverend Al Sharpton and other luminaries were leading up the march, and after a certain amount of participant chanting ‘LET’S MARCH NOW’, his entourage and the other luminaries moved to the back of the march, which now became the front. And we headed down to City Hall, where we were treated to the requisite speeches and called on outrage. There were thousands on the streets, tightly packed (which is why it took so long to change direction). I was appalled by later news reports that stated ‘hundreds’ had participated.
And yes, I got my ‘Justice for Eric Garner’ button, fresh off the Local SEIU 1199 button stamp. There are some shots of me on social media (If you see a tubby older guy sporting a lefthander teardrop body Washburn, that would be me). I got a few anecdotes worth repeating. And my Eric Garner button will join a bunch of others in my big bucket full of protest buttons commemorating previous victims.
And now what?
The Garner case has been classified as a homicide–but the officer involved in the choke-hold is not under indictment. And the chances are very good in the Ferguson case that police officer Darren Wilson–Michael Brown’s shooter– cannot be brought to justice under Missouri’s version of ‘stand your ground’ laws. Meanwhile, the ubiquity of cell phone cameras (and the egregious actions they are continually capturing) mean that the public is seeing the way that the police behave when they are confronting people of color. One must conclude that we are seeing only the tip of the iceberg, and current practice isn’t all that different from Jim Crow days, even in ostensibly ‘liberal’ Northern cities. And there seems to be no recognition of the problem–even the perception of the problem. I remember the tempest in a teapot several years ago over an overtly racist parade float in Broad Channel NY (an enclave of police and firefighters) in the city, where a group of NYPD and NYFD members in blackface re-enacted the dragging death of an African American man in Texas. You’d think the fallout from such an event would have made it clear that such behavior was considered verboten. But last year NY Politico Dov Hikind dressed in Blackface for Purim and then gave a rousing ‘I’m sorry you were offended’ as if the blame for the offence fell on the person finding the behavior negative.
I see the convergence of the Garner Case (along with the renewed interest in other recent cop shootings in NY)and the cases in Ferguson to be ominous. The community leadership from people like Al Sharpton has not been stellar (I suspect the Reverend doesn’t want to rock the MSNBC boat too much). But at this point, what can you say? We live in a racially insensitive country, and nobody wants to go and call out white America for its continuing indifference to the murder and mistreatment of people of color.
And need I remind anyone that these attacks are piggy-backing on an economic landscape where African American unemployment employment is the worst it’s been in decades? the cutbacks in government employment are hitting minority communities much harder than they are affecting white communities. There’s going to come an inflection point where all this blows up, and nobody in the 1% should have the temerity to act surprised. Meanwhile, nobody wants to articulate a vision of how we get to a point where the police cease with the thuggish behavior they’re carrying out.
Monicaangela pointed out the divergence between minorities and the Police. I don’t disagree, but I think the police are simply reflecting the values of the society at large. If racism made police recruits ineligible, that would go a long way. But It’s like the ‘potter stewart’ definition for Pornography–“I know it when I see it”.