Can there be more pathetic last words?
I’m not breathless… I’m speechless! I’m one of the millions who could see the video tape of the “take down” for myself. I could hear Eric Garner’s last plea for breath.
A simple review of the news finds those closer and more articulate than me. Here’s The New Yorker columnist, John Cassidy’s take:
‘The imbalance between Mr. Garner’s fate, on a Staten Island sidewalk in July, and his supposed infraction, selling loose cigarettes, is grotesque and outrageous.’ Bramhall’s cartoon shows Lady Justice, splayed out on the sidewalk, her sword and scales of justice scattered around her, saying, “I … CAN’T … BREATHE.”
Those words were, of course, the last ones that Garner, a forty-three-year-old black man, uttered while being held down on a sidewalk on Staten Island by cops, including one, officer Daniel Pantaleo, who had him in what N.Y.P.D. commissioner William Bratton subsequently described as an unauthorized chokehold. In a front-page headline, the Daily News changed Garner’s words a bit, to read “We Can’t Breathe,” which accurately summed up the feelings of many New Yorkers, and many Americans outside New York, when they heard that a grand jury had decided not to bring charges against Pantaleo or anyone else.
What am I after? Not revenge; not a chance to sit on the Grand Jury; not violent protest. I’m not suggesting Mr. Garner is “innocent,” nor am I out for Officer Pantaleo’s badge. It’s all wrong. Nothing about this makes a lot of sense. It is pitiable and full of pathos.
The Sense of Safety that Comes from Justice?
This senseless overreaction that led to death not only deeply injures Mr. Garner’s family and friends; not only rasps the conscience of every person of colour in the U.S. and around the world; not only slaps the face of happy white folk; not only beckons those in authority to not remain dispassionate; not only diminishes confidence in Officer Pantaleo and his NYPD colleagues – – it undermines the sense of safety that comes from justice.
Would that the clock could be turned back to the moments of the early encounter with Eric: could peace-loving and firm patience have been practiced? Or is it the case that when one has a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail?
The iconic Lady Justice isn’t blind; she’s blindfolded to represent impartiality – not to be influenced by wealth, politics, popularity or infamy. We are not wearing blindfolds, but we have a curious species of blindness if we won’t see what’s going on.
Justice: it’s a big idea. It’s a loaded term. It’s what we all want. I will leave you of something I wrote in an earlier post on justice: when a person came up to me after a sermon on social justice, he challenged me by saying “I don’t think God is into social justice.” I said:
It’s actually worse than you thought: God is just; He is justice and everything about Him is just. He seeks to re-establish fairness, right-relatedness and justice in every sphere – criminal justice, social justice, restorative justice, and our personal right-relatedness to Him.
I pray for justice for Eric Garner; for his family and friends; for the people that shared the streets with him, including the police officers; for the NYPD and the “systems” in place for the protection and peace keeping in the city..
But mostly I pray that we can hear the words again, “I can breathe… again! There’s justice in the land!”