Sunday, December 28, 2014

Garner Responsible for his Death

High School teams in California have been asked to not participate in a regional basketball tournament if they insisted on wearing "I can't breathe" T-shirts. The shirts have been worn by several well know athletes and are in support of Eric Garner, who died after being in a choke hold while resisting arrest at the hands of New York City police.

We're getting just a little tired of all the liberal/libertarian knee jerk support for people who are less than exemplary citizens. While we concede that what Garner was doing did not merit death, and indeed we're not sure that it even merited police attention even though against the law (surely there are worse things happening in New York than selling cigarettes illegally) Garner still holds at least a significant part of the blame for his own death. In poor health, his actions surely contributed to his death perhaps more than police actions may have. And the facts still remain that if he had not resisted arrest or been selling the Satan sticks illegally he would almost certainly be alive today.

This opinion does not absolve the police of what responsibility they may hold. Nor does it mean to assuage concerns about general police overreach or overreaction. We think these are issues which deserve attention. But we also think that no less true than at any other time in our history. We must always be concerned with authority using its power beyond reason. Yet such worries cannot mean that we have writ to excuse the actions of those the police confront either. Police are human beings who will make mistakes, and who will sometimes do stupid things.

Yet so are all the rest of us. What Eric Garner did was stupid, especially given that he knew his health was poor and that he was breaking the law (we can argue that it was a bad law, yet that is essentially a separate question). We cannot serve the more noble cause of justice by making a catchphrase of a plea which was clearly false anyway (he could not have said I can't breathe if he wasn't breathing) on the part of someone resisting arrest when, for his own sake if nothing else, he should have know better than to do.

We will be accused of it, so we'll emphasize once more that we agree that police abuse of authority must be taken seriously and dealt with with justice. But we wish to remind others that few issues are so cut and dry as to be wholly the fault of one side over the other. We don't doubt that the officer involved with Eric Garner did not wish to see him die. Yet Eric Garner did wish to openly break a law and cause a scene. That could be the most important difference between the two.

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