“k1f” Kirby Farrell
If you ever doubted that humans are childlike creatures, watch the video that shows New York City police arresting—and killing—a 42 year old black father of six on a Staten Island sidewalk. Eric Garner was selling illegal loose (untaxed) cigarettes—you can see why he protested the triviality of the arrest. Perhaps he had trouble understanding why handcuffs for him when Wall Street bankers triggered the financial calamity of 2008 with shifty tricks and collected bonuses instead of punishments.
The arrest and killing have the quality of a children’s game. The cops are dressed up in uniforms and enjoy bossing the tall, heavyset, mild Garner. They’re the big kids; he‘s It. His size and his attempt not to be handcuffed give them the excuse to “take him down.” Two cops close in. One, officer Pantaleo, uses a taboo chokehold to drop the big guy to the pavement as the man pleads that he can’t breathe. Then there are four cops piling on. It’s the bigger boys’ version of what at age 10 we called a pig pile. It’s partly a macho exercise. If you’re “on top,” you feel great.
The police game, you notice, has no place for negotiation with the one who’s It, and no sense of medical emergency when the loser loses consciousness. Various hands feel for Garner’s pulse, nobody’s alarmed or tries CPR: the guy who’s “It” is hardly important.
Unluckily for the players, the city medical examiner rules Garner’s death a homicide caused by a chokehold and compression of his chest during an attempted arrest. When the grand jury looks the other way, the nation is outraged, especially because since Garner’s death, US police have killed at least half a dozen other unarmed black males in trivial circumstances.
What’s revealing is that the police shirk all responsibility. Not only do they blame Eric Garner for his death, they feel sorry for themselves, milking the public for pity. “Officers say the outcry has left them feeling betrayed and demonized by everyone.”  The problem is, “everyone” thinks the cops betrayed the citizens they serve, in particular Eric Garner, by choking instead of talking to him or even warning him.
“Police officers feel like they are being thrown under the bus,” said Patrick Lynch, president of the police union. Mr. Lynch depicts the cops as martyrs. They’re the ones being crushed to death, not Eric Garner. To keep up this grotesque projection, Lynch complains about the protests: “What we did not hear is this: You cannot go out and break the law. What we did not hear is that you cannot resist arrest. That’s a crime.”
The joke here of course is that the medical examiner found the cops, not Eric Garner, guilty of homicide. That’s a crime. Sometimes.
Prisons are full of folks who can’t handle the pain of guilt. They need to feel “right” as all of us do. Guilt attacks, wrecks, rots self-esteem. No wonder kids sometimes deny guilt so fast they can deny they’ve denied it. Yet coming to terms with guilt is crucial if we’re ever going to escape childhood.
The NYC police feel they played the game by the rules. And it is a game: their spokesmen, like coaches or sports dads, want to get on with the game. Don’t rattle the players or you’ll be sorry. Cop culture has no sense of tragedy. No sense that motives can betray us. No sense that like children, we’d rather deny responsibility than interrogate ourselves as suspects to find out why some guy’s dead on the sidewalk.
Rep. Peter King (R) argues that the grand jury outcome would have been the same if Garner had been white. Try to picture NY cops choking Lloyd Blankfein, the Chief Smooothie at Goldman Sachs, to the sidewalk of Wall Street.
Officer Pantaleo told the grand jury he tried to release Garner as soon as he began pleading, but the video doesn’t show that. He insisted that he hadn’t meant to hurt Eric Garner, which is how you feel playing a game.
Officer Pantaleo also explained that Garner’s ability to plead that he couldn’t breathe means he could breathe.
The officer is taking a cue from the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. Like the cops, the Queen doesn’t talk to you: she bosses you. Lewis Carroll understood the cops perfectly: “The Queen had only one way of settling all difficulties, great or small. ‘Off with his head!’ she said, without even looking round.”
Resources used in this essay:
Kirby Farrell, The Psychology of Abandon (Leveller’s Press, coming soon)
1. Tom Hays and Colleen Long, “Police: Chokehold Victim Eric Garner Complicit In Own Death,” Huffington Post, December 5, 2014.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/05/police-chokehold-eric-garner_n_6277790.html
Eric L. Adams, a (black) retired NYPD Capt. and state senator observed the connection of police survival anxiety and attacks on the mascuinity of “losers” under arrest. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/05/opinion/we-must-stop-police-abu…