Eric Garner was a Black man who was killed by the New York police July 2014. This sample political essay explores the death of Eric Garner.
- It begins with a description of the event itself followed by the repercussions that the event has had in the United States over the course of the last few months.
- The essay will attempt to sketch a conceptual framework that could be used to make more sense of this and related events within the nation.
- This sample essay will end with concluding remarks about the implications of the death of Eric Garner for Americans today.
The death of Eric Garner
Goodman and Gonzalez have described the death of Eric Garner in the following way:
“On July 17, New York police placed Eric Garner, an African-American father of six, in a chokehold after they confronted him for selling single cigarettes known as ‘loosies’. Graphic video of the incident shows an officer pulling Garner to the ground and then holding his head to the pavement. He repeatedly says that he cannot breathe” (paragraph 1).
So, on the basis of the video evidence, it is quite clear that the New York police were responsible for the death of Eric Garner; that they used excessive force relative to the magnitude of the situation at hand; and that they failed to take Garner’s own pleas with adequate seriousness. The result was what, conceptually, could only be called a homicide. This is the conclusion that was reached by an official medical examiner. The seriousness of the incident is clearly exacerbated by the fact that on the basis of Garner saying that he could not breathe, the police should have known that they were killing him.
The incident, then, was a clear instance of the broader problem of police brutality and how police fail to use discretion with force. Moreover, there is reason to believe that the death of Eric Garner may well be simply the latest incident of a broader pattern of deviance and use of excessive force by the New York police. For example, in a 1998 scholarly article, Miller has indicated that “a recent study by Amnesty International had reported an alarming pattern of excessive force by NYPD officers” (149). The event can thus not be explained away as the insane act of a single rogue police officer on one single day. Rather, there would be seem to be a trend, and the event would need to be seen as an instantiation of this trend in order to gain a deeper understanding of the incident. For example, although chokeholds have been banned in New York City for over two decades, there have still been countless public complaints against police using chokeholds over the past several years (see Goodman and Gonzalez). In any event, such a perspective would clearly be necessary in order to grasp the significance of the repercussions of the event within the nation, as will become clear below.
The people speak out against police brutality
Recently, there has been public outrage over the decision of a grand jury to not even hold a trial over the death of Eric Garner. In other words, the grand jury determined that there was not enough evidence to warrant a criminal trial against the relevant police officers, even with video material clearly showing that the police killed Eric Garner. This has caused protests to erupt across the nation. As Sanchez has reported:
“The throngs—young and old, black and white—took to the streets in major cities, including New York, Washington, Boston, San Francisco and Oakland, California. In Washington, a crowd of thousands snaked up Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol in a protest that evoked memories of past civil rights marches” (“Protesting Police Shootings,” paragraph 4).
This movement as a result of the seemingly obvious injustice of not even holding a trial when there is such strong prima facie evidence of foul play on the part of the police.
Police brutality on the rise
Moreover, the situation is exacerbated when one bears in mind that a pattern of police brutality can be seen even over the course of the past few months within the United States. For example, there are uncanny parallels between the death of Eric Garner in New York City and the death of Michael Brown in the town of Ferguson, Missouri. In both incidents, a White police force was responsible for the death of a young Black man; and also in both incidents, a grand jury reached the decision to not even hold a trial. The racial dynamics here are significant. As Sanchez has put it:
“Some people compared the immediate aftermath of Brown’s death to a lynching in the old South. They drew parallels to a time of public hangings, when mobs killed blacks, sometimes for perceived infractions such as stealing, and left the bodies in public to sow fears” (“Ferguson,” paragraph 22).
Clearly, the same kind of interpretation could be given to the death of Eric Garner as well; and when one also bears in mind other recent incidents such as the death of Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio, it becomes clear that one is confronting not an isolated incident but rather a broader pattern of police brutality in the nation against young Black males.
A demand for Grand Jury reform
In addition to the protests that have emerged across the nation, the death of Eric Garner (and related events) have also led to legislative calls for reform of the grand jury system, a criminal justice element required under the U.S. Bill of Rights. Historically, the purpose of this system was actually to protect the American people from excessive state power. With the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, though, and the decisions of grand juries in these cases to not hold trials, many Americans have become disturbed by the lack of transparency of grand juries and the potential role that they thus play in preventing justice from being served, especially when the defendants are (like police officers) relatively powerful and/or employees of the state. In this context, it is noteworthy that recently”
“Rep. Hank Johnson (D) of Georgia unveiled a number of proposed reforms to the federal grand jury process, presenting a bill that prohibits the use of out-of-public-view grand jury hearings when it comes to cases where a police officer has killed a citizen. The bill also would require an outside prosecutor to investigate officers in such cases” (Bruinius, paragraph 2).
Such proposals are clearly informed by the sensibility that there the grand juries’ decisions in the cases of Eric Garner and Michael Brown have been unjust.
Grand jury not designed to determine guilt or innocence
Again, it is worth reinforcing the point that the purpose of a grand jury is not to decide whether a given defendant is in fact guilty of charges that have been brought against him; rather, the purpose of the grand jury is to determine whether charges should be brought in the first place. Once this is understood, it begins to seem quite reasonable that people would be outraged over a decision to not even bring charges against the police officers involved in the death of Eric Garner. After all, he is dead because of their actions.
This would seem to imply that at least an open and transparent hearing would be in order. The fact that the grand jury has denied such a hearing is the primary reason why calls have emerged for the reform of the grand jury system. In fact, as Feige has indicated, there may especially be significant elements of collusion and corruption involved in the grand jury process when police officers are involved, to the point that the entire process may sometimes degrade to the point of being more for show than anything else. In any event, the lack of transparency of the grand jury process, coupled with the obviously counterintuitive decision of the grand jury in the case of Eric Garner, does little to alleviate such suspicions.
What causes police brutality?
Conceptually, the escalating problem of racially motivated police shootings can be explored in two main ways. The first pertains to the role of the state within a democratic society, and by extension the police force as the projection of state power. As Negri has shown, the concept of constituent power is central to the entire democratic political project: the idea is that the power to constitute a society and a government ultimately resides with the people, and that the people have the sovereign right to ensure that the government fulfills the ends that have been determined by them.
In this context, the arbitrary use of force by the police would be completely unacceptable. This is because insofar as Eric Garner was part of “the people,” the police only had authority because he consented to them having authority; and this consent was premised on the agreement that the police would use their authority solely to protect the people. When the police stop protecting the people (against genuinely violent criminals, for example) and instead begin acting like violent criminals themselves, they undermine the foundations of their own legitimacy. This logically leads to protest movements within the nation that call attention to this problem.
Racial tensions in the U.S.
In addition, the problem of police brutality as exemplified in the case of Eric Garner can also be conceptualized in terms of racial struggle within the nation. Of course, the United States began as a nation with the institution of slavery; this institution was not legally abolished until after the Civil War; and another century had to pass after that before the civil rights movement brought some semblance of genuine racial equality to the nation. In this context, the murder of a Black person by a White police officer could be understood as part of the ongoing plight of African Americans within the nation. There is something of a conceptual parallel between the historical notion that White people could own Black people and treat the latter in whatever ways they wanted on the one hand, and a White police officer being able to kill a Black man without even facing a criminal trial on the other. In any event, this is surely how many Americans have interpreted the death of Eric Garner, especially when seen in light of the broader pattern of police brutality against Black men in the nation.
Understanding the connections between Garner’s death and a larger problem
In summary, this essay has provided an overview and developed a discussion of the death of Eric Garner at the hands of the New York police. The essay began with a description of the event, proceeded to discuss the repercussions of the events, and finally sketched a conceptual framework that could be utilized to more effectively understand the event and its repercussions. An important theme that has emerged here is that the death of Eric Garner cannot be properly understood outside of its national and historical context. For one thing, the event is a part of a more general disturbing pattern of police brutality that can be seen even over the past few months; and at a broader level of analysis, the racial dynamics of the event (and related events) are clearly being read by many Americans as a sign that the project of the civil rights movement remains incomplete, and that there is still a great deal of work to be done in order to ensure racial equality within the United States.
Finally, it is also worth emphasizing the attention that the death of Eric Garner and its aftermath have called to the grand jury process. Again, the process was initially meant to protect American citizens from injustice; but the growing public perception is that it now actually prevents justice from being served. It will be interesting to witness how legislative proposals and reforms proceed over the coming times, and to reflect on how these initiatives are causally related to events such as the death of Eric Garner.
Bruinius, Harry. “Amid Garner and Brown Outrage, Bill Would Reform Federal Grand Juries.” Christian Science Monitor. 12. Dec. 2014. Web. 15 Dec. 2014.http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Justice/2014/1212/Amid-Garner-and-Brown-outrage-bill-would-reform-federal-grand-juries.
Goodman, Amy, and Juan Gonzalez. “New York Police Killing of Eric Garner Spurs Debate on Chokeholds Filming Officer Misconduct.” Democracy Now! 5 Aug. 2014. Web. 15 Dec. 2014. http://www.democracynow.org/2014/8/5/new_york_police_killing_of_eric.
Feige, David. “Fairness in Ferguson.” Slate. 18 Nov. 2014. 15 Dec. 2014.http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2014/11/darren_wilson_grand_jury_ferguson_prosecutor_opens_proceedings_to_both_sides.html.
Miller, Marshall. “Police Brutality.” Yale Law Policy Review 17.1 (1998): 149-200. Print.
Negri, Antonio. Savage Anomaly: The Power of Spinoza’s Metaphysics and Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Print.
Sanchez, Ray. “Protesting Police Shootings: Demands for Change Sound Out Nationwide.” CNN. 13 Dec. 2014. Web. 15 Dec. 2014. http://www.cnn.com/2014/12/13/us/nationwide-police-protests/.
Sanchez, Ray. “Why Ferguson Touched a Raw, National Nerve.” CNN 29 Nov. 2014. Web. 2 Dec. 2014. http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/29/us/ferguson-national-protests/index.html.
Cite This Post
This blog post is provided free of charge and we encourage you to use it for your research and writing. However, we do require that you cite it properly using the citation provided below (in MLA format).
Ultius, Inc. “Sample Essay on The Death of Eric Garner: Overview and Discussion.” Ultius Blog. Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services, 24 Dec. 2014. Web.
Thank you for practicing fair use.
This citation is in MLA format, if you need help with MLA format, click here to follow our citation style guide.