Did callous New York paramedics and police leave Eric Garner to die? It’s a disturbing question being asked by civil rights activists, witnesses and Garner’s wife and family. And it’s a question that deserves a swift answer. Garner died last week in Staten Island during an arrest in which a New York police officer placed Garner in an outlawed choke hold — — a deadly tactic that has been prohibited by police for 20 years.

Last Sunday, Rev. Al Sharpton, who has aggressively called for justice in Garner’s death, preached at Riverside Church in New York and said: “None of them said, ‘Let’s stop. He can’t breathe.’ ’’ Sharpton will also speak at Garner’s funeral on Wednesday where he likely repeat his call for justice.

“Even if police procedures don’t kick in, when does your sense of humanity kick in? Have we gotten so cold?” Sharpton asked.

It’s an important question to ask. I don’t know what’s in the hearts of the cops who left Garner in anguish on the sidewalk or the paramedics who apparently ignored protocol by not administering oxygen to Garner and not immediately placing him on a stretcher. Garner died at the hospital.

But here’s the bottom line: No one – not the police or the paramedics – showed any compassion for Garner. Police didn’t believe that Garner was legitimately struggling to breathe during his arrest and paramedics failed to treat him properly. In an awful video taken by an eyewitness, Garner, 43, a 400-pound diabetic who also suffered from asthma, can be heard saying repeatedly that he can’t breathe while at least four other police officers bring him down.

According to the The New York Daily News, Garner then apparently loses consciousness.

The video shows the officer who choked Garner using his hands to smash Garner’s face into the sidewalk. A noted pathologist, Dr. Cyril Wecht, told The New York Daily News that Garner could have lived had he received appropriate medical care at the scene or had anyone simply lifted him off the sidewalk and placed him in a sitting position.

That’s a shame. And if Wecht is correct, it’s also criminal.

“Why is no one doing CPR?” a witness at the scene asks. “Now they’re trying to get him an ambulance, after they harassed and slammed him down,” a woman taking the video says. “[The] NYPD harassing people for no reason, he didn’t do anything at all.”

The police officers involved displayed a coldhearted disregard for life. Did police and paramedics disrespect Garner because they considered him a lowly black suspect? Or were they just overzealous and incompetent? Either way, Garner’s untimely and suspicious death is a tragedy that should be thoroughly investigated.

For now, the police officer who put Garner in a choke hold, Daniel Pantaleo, was stripped of his gun and badge and placed on modified duty, and the four emergency workers who responded to the scene in Staten Island were also put on modified duty pending an investigation.

But Garner’s son, Eric Snipes, 18, said he wants to see Pantaleo behind bars. Meanwhile, police said Garner has been arrested 31 times since 1988 on charges such as drug possession, selling untaxed cigarettes and assault. He was last arrested in May for selling untaxed cigarettes, court records show. Since 2009, he was arrested nine different times for selling illegal cigarettes.

Police claim Garner became irate during questioning and needed to be subdued. But Garner did not have a weapon, and, after I reviewed the video, I didn’t see any indication that Garner posed a serious threat to police. Pantaleo has a history, too. The eight-year veteran has been the subject of two lawsuits that alleged violations of police procedures and false arrest.

In one case, two Black plaintiffs won a settlement of $15,000 apiece after winning their case that they were falsely arrested and strip-searched. Their charges were dismissed. Sharpton is making sure there will be a thorough investigation. Garner’s death is a tragedy and the fact that another black man has died during an altercation with police in New York is a travesty.

His family needs answers and deserves justice.

What do you think?

(Photo: AP)

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14 thoughts on “COMMENTARY: Was Eric Garner’s Death An Accident…Or a Murder?

  1. Laura F on said:

    I am an EMT. I can’t believe how the Police and EMS acted. When anyone is having difficulty breathing you sit them up (unless you think they have a broken neck and then you get a backboard) and you give them oxygen. At the very least you do a head tilt chin lift something that is taught at the very earliest of first responder classes.

    My heart aches for the man who is now dead. My heart aches for our communities where we live in fear of not only the criminals, but those who should be protecting us. My heart aches that my daughter is growing up in a world where Police are still abusing their power.

    Please remember that not all EMS and Police are bad. When I have worked as an EMT I have treated all of my patients with respect and I have tried to help ease their suffering.

  2. Thomas on said:

    Here is black folks can solve their own problems: 1- join the police force
    2- become paramedics
    3- don’t commit crime
    4- Cooperate with the police

    Thank you

    • Marian on said:

      Thomas. I see the list of things you think black folk can do to reduce police brutality. One of the suggestions is to join the police force. I guess you didn’t see that a black police officer filed a claim against fellow white police officers who put him in a choke hold, I believe a couple of years ago. It doesn’t seem to make any difference if you are a police officer or not. If a person is black, he or she has less chance to encounter the police on friendly terms.

  3. Liz Clemons on said:

    Just because this man had an arrest record, does not mean he deserved to die. Does the law enforcement ever think about family and that this man has someone that loved him. It is a shame the law is supposed to protect and serve. They could have given him better help then what they did, no one attempted CPR. really, and a man is telling you he can’t breath. I know nothing can bring this young man back, but my God when will it stop.

  4. pac4me on said:

    Soo you can’t become irate when the police are harassing you about something you did in the past??
    I’m sure they didn’t think this man might die, but their willful actions were a contributing cause of his distress and then to insult even further, you don’t believe he’s having trouble! what about human compassion, well let’s just sit him up and see what happens. The police and the paramedics should be held totally responsible for this man’s death. When a crime is committed by everyday citizen’s – all those involved (whether they pulled the trigger or not) are charged with the crime – why not these fools?

  5. jamel on said:

    And. They show this man’sarrest record, as if that justifies him being killed by this white officer!! I feel sick to my stomach that this happened but he is not the first and won’t be the last!! There will be another unjustified killing of an unarmed white officer and people will be marching in the streets and activists standing up! We have to stop killing in our own neighborhoods for society to see value on black life but it might be too late!!!! Black men are seen as villians and to be feared so when one is killed, white society doesn’t care. They caremore about those damn illegal mexicans and latinos coming over here than black people who built this damn Racist country!!!!

  6. jamel on said:

    This is appalling and disturbing!!! This white officer will be back on the job because black life is not valued in this society!!! They don’t care what they do, they have a badge and gun and the Union backing them on this BS!!! All you see is white police officers in black neighborhoods!!! Really!!! It is a war on black men since the beginning of time! Slavery, civil rights and on and on!!1
    Black life has no value to white people period!! They are justifying killing this man as we speak. Black men have to stop killing each other and band together to stop this mess!! Murder by white police!

  7. redbone1954 on said:

    This is just crazy why is someone dead over selling single cigarettes? Why do 6 children not have a father over selling single cigarettes? This has turned in a national tragedy over selling single cigarettes SAD

  8. Unlocking The Truth on said:

    Its a travesty whether the victim was black or white and whether the cop was black or white. The policemen of this country are out of control. The federal govt has militarized even small cities. They now have a soldier mentality and American citizens are the enemy.

    • No sympathy for this man Thomas? Really? I’m a former PO and I can say first hand knowledge that type behavior by the NYPD and Medics is totally unprofessional. NYPD needs to clean up their act. They’re acting NO different than the criminals that run in that city. They just have badges to protect them from being prosecuted.

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