A Grand jury is a panel of citizens that is convened by a court to decide whether it is appropriate for the government to proceed with a prosecution against someone suspected of a crime. A Grand Jury is charged with looking at the information presented by the prosecutor and determining whether or not there is “probable cause” to take a case to trial. “Probable cause” by definition is “a reasonable amount suspicion supported by circumstances sufficiently strong to justify a prudent and cautious person’s belief that certain facts are probably true.”
Grand juries are not charged with determining guilt or innocence. Their findings do not require a determination “beyond all reasonable doubt.” Their decision does not require a unanimous vote. Suffice it to say the bar a prosecutor most cross to obtain a Grand Jury indictment is set pretty low.
That is unless you are trying to prosecute a white cop for using excessive force against a black male.
On July 17 five Staten Island police officers approached Eric Garner with the intent of arresting him for the illegal sale of loose cigarettes. The subsequent exchange between police officers and Eric Garner was caught on tape.
The police had previously questioned Garner several times about the illegal sales; all of which Garner denied. Garner was obviously frustrated and agitated by the officers’ presence. The officers told Garner to put his arms behind him so that they could cuff him and take him in for booking. Garner, a large man well over 300 pounds resisted by swatting away officers’ attempts to secure his arms. The officers swarmed Mr. Garner and attempted to wrestle him to the ground. In the scuffle that ensued one of the officers, Daniel Pantaleo, locked Garner in a chokehold and pulled him the ground. The New York Police department banned the use of the chokehold tactic because if used improperly it can result in serious injury or death. Officer Pantaleo secured Garner in the chokehold as the other officers struggled to place him in cuffs. Garner is heard on the tape pleading with officers that he could not breathe. “I can’t breathe.” Garner repeated eleven times.
Garner was pronounced dead later that same day. The New York City Medical Examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide.
Yesterday the grand jury announced that it would not indict Officer Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner.
Our justice system is broken…particularly when it comes to the degree of force used in meting out justice young black males.
Five well trained police officers…five…arrive on the scene to arrest Garner for illegally…selling cigarettes.
One of the trained officers employs a chokehold tactic with full knowledge of the fact that the tactic had been banned by his department specifically because it can cause serious injury and death.
Garner can be heard pleading several that he cannot breathe.
Garner is dead.
The medical examiner rules that his death was a homicide.
The entire event is caught on tape.
And yet our justice system says…nothing to see here.
Perhaps Garner’s death was not caused solely by the chokehold administered by officer Pantaleo. In ruling Garner’s death a homicide the medical examiner said that the pressure on the neck, compression of the chest and the position in which Garner was held on the ground were contributing factors. That finding might indicate that Officer Pantaleo may not have been solely responsible for Garner’s death. But surely there is probable cause to indict him for his participation!
A man is dead. The medical professionals have ruled his death a homicide. Whether he was a saint or guilty of selling illegal cigarettes…whether he was combative or compliant…whether he was black or white...he is dead at the hands of the police. If we are the nation of laws that we claim to be then justice must be served. The problem we have is that in this country “justice” has a far different meaning if you are a black male.
The only good thing that might come of Eric Garner’s death is that this particular case of excessive force against black males happened in New York. Nothing garners more attention than those events which offend the sensibilities of New Yorkers. Ferguson, Missouri will eventually fade into yesterday’s news. But let the same thing occur in New York and it is memorialized forever. Perhaps the glare of the big city’s lights illuminate a path toward equality and compromise between law enforcement and the minority communities they are paid to serve.
Let’s hope so. Because our justice system is broken