Dr. King?s Dream Still in a Chokehold

Eric GarnerAmid the turmoil and tragedy from Paris and the assassination of two NYPD officers, the chokehold death of Eric Garner has been swept to the backburner as a tragic issue.? But the recent report by police inspector general, Philip K. Eure, has returned the spotlight to an incident that aroused public outrage and filled the streets with protesters.

The chokehold, said Eure, who used the deadly tactic as the subject of his first formal investigation, was the ?first act of physical force? by the police when facing ?mere verbal confrontation.?

It?s hard not to see again images of Garner being grabbed from behind by Officer Daniel Pantaleo that fateful July day in Staten Island, thrown to the sidewalk, with his neck still harnessed in the officer?s grip, and then set upon by several other officers who applied pressure to his body, so much so that he cried out, ?I can?t breathe? a number of futile times.

But a grand jury failed to indict Officer Pantaleo and what the new police inspector general has determined in studying 10 cases the Civilian Complaint Review Board recommended as the most serious for discipline, none of the cases resulted in charges being filed.

With the same sense of dismissing charges against Officer Pantaleo by the grand jury, the NYPD essentially rejected the CCRB?s recommendations, thereby rendering it an agency of insignificance.

Our point here is that a supposedly banned chokehold may be on the books but not in practice, particularly from some officers who state they are merely trying to apprehend a suspect, as Pantaleo said in his testimony before the grand jury.? Even more perplexing is how a chokehold is being variously defined as something less fatal; a glossary of euphemisms that mean little to someone whose neck is caught in the vice of an officer?s strong arm.?? But a chokehold is a chokehold is a chokehold, and no less deadly if applied to strangle a person.

In effect, we have a grand jury process that is not transparent and too often feckless, a chokehold that has been banned since 1993, a CCRB that is toothless and basically disregarded by the police commissioner, and a new police inspector general whose findings may be given some initial media exposure and then tossed to the dustbin.

What this ultimately means that after all the furor quiets on a rash of current issues and chaos that the public outcry must resume with a special vigilance on the uninterrupted conduct of police misbehavior, whether it?s the use of excessive force or their defiance of the mayor and failing to fulfill their obligations as public servants.
More than possibly extinguishing a person?s life, the chokehold is a useful metaphor when assessing the civil and human rights of citizens who continue to wage a battle for decency and equal treatment under the law.? In far too many ways Black Americans and other minorities receive the short end of the stick when it comes to fair play and opportunity; too often we continue to be the last hired and the first fired; and much too often we are relegated to the bottom of the social, political, and economic indices that determined one?s standing in society.

Not only do we demand the physical elimination of the chokehold by the NYPD, we insist on the removal of the societal chokehold that keep so many Black Americans increasingly distant from Dr. King?s dream.