I normally don’t comment on the guilt or innocence of individuals who have been charged with a crime, or seemingly should be charged with a crime. I have claimed the “I wasn’t there” defense for decades. In a post about one high-profile case--involving the Trayvon Martin shooting I focused on the demise of critical thinking and the rise of cut-and-paste journalism, rather than on the guilt or innocence of George Zimmerman.
I have my own opinions on that case, I don’t pretend that they are facts.
I wasn’t there.
When Eric Garner died last summer, I wasn’t there either. Thus I didn’t make any judgement on the guilt or innocence of Daniel Pantaleo.
Until this morning.
Last summer, I watched video of Eric Garner’s arrest and subsequent death in the presence of several police officers and emergency services resources. I saw that there was a rather noticeable edit in the footage before the choke hold was applied.
I didn’t know if the editor’s intent was to bypass some repetitive dialogue between Garner and the law enforcement officers, or if the edits were hiding some threatening behavior from Garner. I presumed it was the latter.
Still I could not envision any circumstances that would warrant the application of the chokehold or to ignore Garners claims of “I can’t breathe.” Even if Garner had taken a threatening action against the two officers, I figured that there would be punishment for the officer that applied the hold.
This morning, I found a story, with an interview of Ramsey Orta, Garner’s friend who shot the video of Garner’s encounter with police.
This version of Orta’s video, in the article does have an edit–at about 1:15–though I think it’s clear that the only thing that’s remotely threatening about Garner is his size. There’s nothing illegal about that. And it certainly doesn’t warrant actions by the police officers.
One thing that is especially disturbing is how methodically, and emotionally detached the two officers seem as they move in on Garner when their backup arrives.
Still the grand jury hearing the case against the officer who applied the chokehold could not find probable cause. This case seem rather low in ambiguity. Abundant harm no foul. #99 got away with one.
I have had some level of distrust of the legal system, since serving on a jury many years ago. It was a whiplash case in which the plaintiff was suing two men in the chain of traffic collisions. It was tedious and bothersome for several reasons. But, I figured we owed it to the two defendants to make an objective decision. These two weren’t facing jail, but hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlement money. It was clear (to me anyway) that only one of the young men should face consequences.
During the deliberations there was moment that made me quesy: when a fellow juror said, “Well I think he’s guilty, but I am going to say ‘not guilty’ so we can get this over, because I made dinner plans tonight and I need to beat traffic.”
I concluded, right then, right there that I did not ever want my fate to rest in the hands of a citizen jury. Still, after all these years, I was still naive enough to hope that when the stakes were high that the jury would rise to the occasion and make informed, deliberate rulings.
Several years later, I met a lawyer who was involved in The Innocence Project. I described my experience as a juror, specifically the “…beat traffic…” comment. She told me that I might, or might not, be surprised about how many people try to hasten the deliberation in felony murder cases so they can beat traffic.
As if I needed more reasons to distrust the legal system. I figured my opinion the system couldn’t sink any lower.
Then, last night, the grand jury in the Eric Garner case did not find probable cause to indict the officer, made me lose the last shred of faith that I had in justice system.
I can’t change what happened last night. Though my message the members of the grand jury in the Eric Garner case: “I hope you got stuck in traffic.”