In response to my last article about holding the NYPD responsible for Eric Garner’s death, someone in shul asked me how a chokehold can be considered criminal if it is not outlawed by NY State. To that I say the following:
Criminally negligent homicide, as defined by NY State law pertains to anyone who fails to perceive a “substantial and unjustifiable risk” in the causing of death to another. It is a class E felony and is punishable with a sentence of one to four years.
For a policeman, hitting a suspect with a baton is legal but if a policeman beats a suspect 20 times with a baton over the head when he could have restrained him with one blow to the stomach and the suspect subsequently dies, that is a case where at least, criminally negligent homicide would apply. This is because of the “substantial and unjustifiable risk” of the actions taken would result in death in such a case.
In the Eric Garner case any of the police who acted to result in Garner’s death took on a “substantial and unjustifiable risk” as his death was deemed a homicide according to the coroner’s report and in the observation of anyone with common sense, who viewed the video. The report lists Garner’s asthma, obesity and hypertension only as contributing factors but the constraint of the airway of the throat and compression of the chest were the main factors that deemed it a homicide. A suspect’s resisting arrest when not posing a threat to anyone should never be a justification of lethal tactics when there are non-lethal alternatives. In the Garner case it is just a matter of minutes till there were at least 8 cops on the scene. It is inconceivable that they could not have arrested him without grabbing his throat and piling on top of him. Like I wrote in a previous article, all they had to do was for 2 or 3 cops to grab each of his arms and voila - he’s cuffed!
Furthermore, when observing the video, what looks bizarre is that while Pantaleo has Garner in a chokehold (you can even see the distress on Garner’s face), the police are not even struggling to seize his other hand to cuff him. It’s obvious that Garner can’t even offer up his other hand for cuffing, because they’re pinning his own body against it. In fact, he even has his hand open in the form of a surrender but no one is dealing with that hand while Pantaleo finds it necessary to hold him in a chokehold.
Any agency has to have oversights. Yet according to a just-released report of the Civilian Complaint Review Board quoted by Time magazine, the report states:
“NYPD largely rejected CCRB’s findings and recommendations and, thus, mooted CCRB’s role in the process,” … In fact, there was no indication from the records reviewed that NYPD seriously contemplated CCRB’s disciplinary recommendations or that CCRB’s input added any value to the disciplinary process, … Yet in none of these cases did the police commissioner provide any explanation for these disciplinary [or non disciplinary] decisions.” In other words, there seems to be a lacking coordination between the police department and the Civilian Complaint Review Board. This means that the remedies are not being incorporated into the police department.
The Orthodox community laments when society unleashes wrongs against us and that too few people stick up for us in those cases. But in real life you have to form coalitions to be protected against opponents. During the civil rights movement in the 60’s there was quite a lot of Jewish involvement but it was mainly of Reform rabbis and even then they were in peril of being ostracized by their congregations. Why wouldn’t the Orthodox rabbinate be in the forefront of such a movement? Not our fight? Weren’t the Klan and racist Southerners (not all Southerners of course) equally opposed to Jews as well? If we want the respect and proper consideration from society, it is my contention that we have to become involved in society’s issues in general.
The Orthodox community plays it very safe in that we don’t want to go against the established forces who would presumably protect us. Yet by always siding with the powers that be, we alienate ourselves from other factions of society when coalitions are needed. It is not good to put all of one’s faith into one side, even if that is the establishment and the supposed power-base. Sometimes the establishment turns traitor as what happened in Europe in the Nazi era. Then as the case turned out, we didn’t have the support of the common folk either and had we had it the outcome could have been very different. The establishment was not there to protect Jews in Russia against the pogroms in the late 1800’s and similar scenarios played out many times in history.
I remember the 60’s riots in Washinton DC (where I grew up), the looting and burning of stores owned by many Jewish merchants and how the police were not able or willing to prevent it. During that era the father of one of my classmates was murdered during a hold-up. During the early 90’s Crown Heights experienced a mini pogrom where a Jew was killed over the accidental traffic accident death of a small African-American child by a Lubavitch driver. The police under the weak leadership of Mayor David Dinkins was not able to protect the Jewish neighborhood.
Obviously, I am not advocating that we march with Al Sharpton, the racial arsonist. I am not advocating that we march in any demonstration which is disrespectful to or is anti police. What I do advocate is that the representatives of the Orthodox Jewish community be in communication with the police department community-outreach heads, to see what can be done to mediate grievances against the NYPD from other groups, when they do occur.
Someone else in shul said to me that I was naive in my critique of the NYPD. We didn’t have time to discuss what he meant but he couldn’t have been saying that the police are always right. I believe he meant that it’s naive to believe that the Orthodox community has any power to oppose the police department. I think putting all of our faith in a government institution is naive. I think not getting involved with society’s ills is naive. If a town is plagued by poisoned water, even if one’s own well is not, eventually the poisoned water will find its way into the unpoisoned well. We can’t be isolationists when it comes to domestic issues.
Today’s danger is not Russian Kosaks but it is Islamic terrorists. I say there is actually a connection between seeking justice in the Garner case and being strong against Islamic terrorism. Our own mayor, Bill De Blasio, is weakening the power of local police intelligence agencies by not allowing surveillance of Mosques to scope out possible terrorist threats. Bill De Blasio derives his power from the Left but if we sometimes took the side of the Left by addressing their legitimate grievances the mayor would be weakened, as he would not be the Left’s lone crusading hero. By seeing that all segments of society are cared for, we don’t leave any room for segments to break off and plot against the interests of the overall community.
Notice what’s happening in France where 750 “no go” zones are formed and populated by fundamentalist Islamists. Those zones are governed by Sharia law and the French police and firefighters are not even safe to enter. These areas are plagued by crime and the unemployment for those under 25 is at 40%. Obviously, the pathology from these areas will seep out to the general community in the way that we have recently horrifically witnessed. Our country’s balkanization is not comparable to such a failed system as that in France but there is still plenty of balkanization in our country as well, that needs to be addressed. The world is too interrelated for us to look out only for our interests. Hooray for Prime Minister BB Netanyahu for marching in the unity march against Islamic terrorism along with West Bank President Mahmud Abbas. This is the type of participation that goes a long way.