White Bigotry Costs NYC $5.9 Million For Wrongful Death Suit

White Bigotry Costs NYC $5.9 Million For Wrongful Death Suit

Almost a year ago today, on July 17, 2014, Eric Garner lost his life while being arrested for the crime of selling “loosies,” as single cigarettes are called. These cigarettes sold for about 75¢ a piece on Staten Island, where Garner was accosted  by police.

Why, you may ask, would police arrest a man for selling a cigarette worth less than a dollar? It happened because Republican NYC Mayor Rudolph Giuliani decided to adopt a practice called “broken windows” policing, where minor crimes are stopped and perpetrators arrested by police. The Republican response to crime is always to arrest more people of color.

Ask yourself, do police arrest people for speeding? Do they arrest people for parking in a loading zone? Obviously not. But because Republicans believe that arresting black and brown people for misdemeanors cuts down on felonies, black and brown people are accosted on the street, arrested, and sent to jail. According to the US Constitution, you are innocent until proven guilty. But according to Republicans, you are guilty if you are black or brown.

The fact is, broken-windows policing doesn’t work. True, the crime rate in NYC went down during Guiliani’s term as mayor, but the decline had already started when his predecessor, David Dinkins, hired 8,000 new police. Giuliani himself hired 3,000 more. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate in NYC, which has a strong correlation with major crime (but not minor), dropped 34%.

“Stop and frisk” practices in NYC were also part of the “broken windows” policy of Giuliani and his successor, Republican Mayor and billionaire, Michael Bloomberg. This policy  was used by police to harass, arrest, and jail members of minorities. In 2012, 84% of the 686,000 people stopped by police in NYC were black or brown. 89% were released without citations.

When Mayor De Blasio learned of the bungled arrest and death of Eric Garner, he asked for both sides, police and the community, to keep calm and resolve their differences peaceably. The police union was furious at the mayor for not taking their side. During the funeral of a policeman later in the year, the entire police department turned its back on the Mayor as he gave the eulogy.

And now, a judge awards the family of Eric Garner $5.9 million in a wrongful death suit. The police union objects strongly. They also refuse to change their tactics, fighting to remain persecutors of the poor.

It sounds expensive, nearly $6 million for a wrongful death. But consider how much the people of Ferguson will pay for the wrongful death of Michael Brown, who was shot and killed for shoplifting about $5 worth of cigars. The shooting of Brown already cost the police department $5.7 million in riot control expenses. Protesters and journalists currently have a $60 million class suit pending for wrongful arrest and assault. Property damage in Ferguson will cost about $4.1 million. Two lawsuits, one for wrongful death and the other for false arrest, are also pending.

Republican “law and order” policies — bigotry masquerading as justice — are costly, as police who refuse to observe constitutional rights are discovering.

Image by Thomas Altfather Good at WikiCommons.

Allan is as a life-long progressive. He has an MA degree in paralegal studies, and has served on the board of directors for the National Lawyers Guild. He also spent 20 years in Silicon Valley at companies like Apple, Netscape, and AOL.