I Can’t Breathe

5 Dec

The other night, I was watching Breaking Bad with my father. The episode in question opened with a teaser in which Walter White is confronted by a highway policeman and becomes belligerent towards him. It’s a good scene. Intense and well acted. And it ends on a darkly humorous button of Walter White being pepper sprayed in the face.

My father and I commented, while watching, that Walter White is lucky he isn’t black.

It’s a natural comment to make, I think, given the events in the US over the past several months.

There is something profoundly wrong here… How can we call ourselves civilized? How can we claim there is any sort of progress when we live in a society bound by a system that allows this to happen?

Let’s start with Michael Brown and go from there… Let’s play Devil’s Advocate for two seconds and say: “okay…maybe there is a sprinkle of truth to the ‘self defense’ theory” I certainly don’t believe there is, but let’s for argument’s sake say that, since we weren’t there, we can’t say with absolute certainty that he didn’t attack Darren Wilson in some way.

Fine. But he was unarmed. That much, I think, is a fact. So, I still fail to see how a trained police officer, who is supposed to be a professional…someone whose job it is to protect and only kill when absolutely necessary and inevitable…found no other way to subdue an unruly teenager than to shoot him dead.

Like… That was the only solution. Really? The only solution was to kill an unarmed teenager. You’re a trained police officer. This is your job. That’s what you choose to do.

Very well.

Let’s talk about Tamir Rice now for a second: A twelve-year-old boy who was shot to death by a police officer in Cleveland. And, again, as inconceivable as it is for me to even imagine typing that last sentence, let me – again – play Devil’s Advocate. Again… Gritting my teeth, and for the sake of argument… Let’s assume that he was brandishing what appeared to be a deadly weapon and the police “acted accordingly” to “neutralize the suspect” before he could cause any harm.

While the scenario might make sense in theory, I still fail spectacularly to find the logic in its execution. I don’t see where and how it makes any sense that a police officer will shoot and kill a twelve-year-old…a child…in the name of fulfilling his duty of protecting and serving. I don’t want to be protected or served by such a man. I don’t want this person anywhere near my home. I want him as far from my vicinity as is humanly possible.

Because I value my life. And the life of my children. And the life of my neighbors and their children as well. I want the person patrolling my neighborhood to be a professional. Someone who will think before they act. Someone who actually has the criteria and good sense to inherently know that – any way you look at it, from whatever angle – shooting and killing a twelve-year old is wrong.

What is this, a war zone? Guerrilla warfare with children on the streets of Uganda? Because, by the way, even THAT – to me is inexplicable. But at least, in context, I can conceive of it happening, however tragically, as a consequence of a deeper issue. As in: if children are being trained in death camps for warfare, they will inevitably die in the line of fire as two factions engage in that warfare. But I don’t understand how a child of twelve can be shot dead, by a police officer, on the streets of a city in a nation that claims to be civilized.

And, finally, let’s discuss Eric Garner.

Because here, well, I can’t play Devil’s Advocate. You know why? Because this is a case where even the devil is going: “Dude. Don’t look at me. I have no FUCKING CLUE how that happened. I mean, that one looked pretty slammed shut to me.”

That it happened in the first place is bad enough. That this man, whose only “crime” was to become upset – to verbally express dissent with a police officer – should be killed for that. That, by itself, is a terrible thing.

Think about it. If I told you that this happened in some third world country… That this man, already entering into past conflicts for the awful, unforgivable crime of selling…gasp…UNTAXED CIGARETTES…was killed on the street, like a dog, by a police officer, simply when expressing disagreement and refusing to come along. If I told you about that happening in “one of those third world commie dictatorship countries like Cuba” oh my, how you would be aghast at the barbarism…the savagery!

And yet, here. Right. Fucking. Here. On the streets of New York… That’s exactly what happened and how it went down. And we know. We know this for a fact. Because we saw it. Plain and clear as day.

There is no “conflicting witness testimony.” No one can say: “Oh he was this big guy and he started threatening me and attacking me so I did the only thing I could.” No one can say that because there is a fucking video recording of the event that shows the only aggressive thing this man did was to throw up his hands and say “leave me alone.” And then we see him on the ground…against the pavement…his arm trembling as he grows desperate. We hear the words: “I can’t breathe.” It’s a plea. An obese, asthmatic man is pleading for his very life. And there are three police officers right there as this man is begging for his life…and yet…he dies.

And we saw that. There is no witness testimony. There was no need. Because, how can we possibly doubt our own eyes and ears? And that’s what I mean when I say the event itself is already bad enough.

But, at the very least, we want some measure of consolation. We want to be reassured that – although tragedies like this may happen – there will be justice…balance.

How can we possibly feel that when an institution that is supposed to be there to protect and serve us can allow this – can cause this?

Who was there to serve and protect this NY citizen when he was attacked? Why was he attacked in the first place? Because he wanted to be left alone? And why did he have to die?

I’ll concede that NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo did not intend to kill Eric Garner. But that doesn’t matter. I don’t care. I don’t give a fuck. If I’m driving a car, and I accidentally run someone over, and that person dies…then I am responsible for that person’s death. It’s as plain and simple as that. A person has died because of my irresponsibility and for this I deserve to be punished. I would throw myself at the mercy of the court and hope the sentence is fair. But I would expect, nay, demand some form of justice. As a human being. As someone who needs to pay for what he’s done.

It’s just common sense. I don’t think I could live with myself if I knew I did that and got away clean. And I don’t know that walking up to a grieving widow and saying “I’m sorry” would be enough. I don’t know that I would even have the audacity to do something so hypocritical…so cruel.

How do you sleep at night Daniel Pantaleo?

* * *

Black lives matter.

It’s so weird to me that I have to type that sentence. It’s so strange to conceive of a world where I actually have to type that…where it isn’t a given.

Enough is enough.

This can’t happen anymore.

The frustrating thing is it will most likely happen again… Because when even incontrovertible proof is presented before a jury – when the entire world has seen an act of injustice committed and somehow even that doesn’t matter – even that is inadmissible. Then what else can we do? What else do you need? When are people of authority going to be held accountable? To take their place where they belong? As our protectors…our servants.

He was sanctioned, some will say. His badge was taken. He was suspended.

Well, it’s the least they could do right? But I’m not convinced. I don’t like knowing in my gut that, had Eric Garner been a white man, Pantaleo would right now be in jail.

It’s a hard, unfortunate, unfair…unbelievable truth.

* * *

My only consolation is hope for the future. It exists. The generations that came before me have a lot to answer for. And my generation? We’re trying. Some of us are trying. But, let’s face it… We’re not there yet. And we’re still a mess. But our children… They’re smarter than we are, I think. The way things are now, they’re more perceptive…more aware. So there is hope that, in time, we can look back on things like this as a dark evidence of our barbaric past.

* * *

But when my daughter asks me: “Why?” “Why did they kill that man?” And the follow up question: “Why isn’t the police officer in jail?” I hate the answer to those questions. I hate the idea of typing it. I can’t imagine having to say it. I’m too embarrassed…too ashamed to live in this world, lay it at my chilren’s feet and claim it’s now on them to make it better.

Enough is enough.



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