At the August rally protesting Eric Garner’s death in Staten Island, one of his cousins expressed relief that there existed video footage of the incident in which Garner was killed, when the 43-year-old was approached by a plainclothes police officer on suspicion of selling bootleg cigarettes and subsequently placed in a chokehold. “For the first time in history, we got proof on tape that the police were doing us dirty,” he told the crowd.
Garner’s cousin believed, as did many others, that the taping would be the proof required to charge a New York City police officer in connection with the death of a black citizen, providing an all-too-rare moment of accountability.
But that has turned out not to be the case; a 23-person grand jury in Staten Island, with 14 white members, voted not to bring criminal charges against the officer in question, Daniel Pantaleo. Protests are expected tonight and continuing into the weekend.
To be sure, there was other evidence against the officer in question. Garner’s death was ruled a “homicide” by the New York City Medical Examiner’s office. And it’s not in dispute that the NYPD banned chokeholds for their own police force more than 20 years ago. But none of that, apparently, was sufficient to bring charges against Pantaleo — just as extensive eyewitness testimony in the Ferguson, Mo. killing of Michael Brown proved insufficient to bring a grand jury indictment against a police officer there just last month.
The miniaturization of video cameras to fit into mobile phones and “wearable” electronic gear has helped video recordings emerge as a widely-touted panacea against police misbehavior. The thinking has been that video provides indisputable evidence. But today’s ruling, to say nothing of acquittals more than two decades ago of officers involved in the videotaped beating of motorist Rodney King, show that not to be the case.