New York State, and NYC in particular have steep and overbearing taxes on tobacco which has led to a thriving black market for cigarettes that spans a good portion of the North Eastern US. Criminals are getting rich and NY is losing hundreds of millions in tax revenue because of their war on tobacco.
Because of this caustic environment many smokers and entrepreneurs are turning to the black market to save or make money. One such aspiring capitalist was Eric Garner who was selling loose cigarettes on the street to make some cash. The police accosted him about his actions and an argument ensued at which point he was set upon by officers who took him to the ground while Officer Pantaleo held him by his neck using his forearm to keep him in a choke hold. There were many ways this simple disagreement could have played out, instead one man is dead and the officer who overreacted will not be indicted in his murder.
Mayor Bill De Blasio is with the people on this issue. He believes that the police were wrong, and is proposing retraining of officers to help avoid incidents like this in the future. Much of the news we have seen in recent months dealing with police violence; especially against African Americans, stems from two fundamental problems.
1.Poorer black communities have an alarmingly higher rate of crime, particularly violent crime in contrast with other lower class neighborhoods. These issues are ongoing and black leaders and politicians have failed to properly address this issue, or offer possible solutions. Civil rights leaders are silent on the issue, and politicians like De Blasio believe the violence is not the issue, but the police response to it. De Blasio said in an interview with ABC news George Stephanopoulos:
"I think he fundamentally misunderstands the reality. There is a problem here. There is a rift here that has to be overcome. You cannot look at the incident in Missouri; another incident in Cleveland, Ohio; and another incident in New York City all happening in the space of weeks and act like there's not a problem.""There's something fundamental we have to get at here, and it's not going to be helped by accusing either the community or the police of having bad intention or not doing their job. In fact, I think everyone is trying to do their job."
2.Officers who deal with the criminal element in these areas are more worried about violence and therefore take a stance that is more aggressive than otherwise would be necessary. They fear for their lives on a daily basis and their actions reflect that fear. There is also an underlying element of racial bias attached to this fear. These officers have become hardened by their experience in these crime ridden neighborhoods and their has now turned to anger that is reflected back brutally on the communities they were hired to protect.
De Blasio sounds like the issue is only about mending the gap between the community and law enforcement and that somehow just giving the police a little 'sensitivity' training will fix the issue. Former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani contends that we need to correct the problems plaguing the black community to get the police to relax. Both of them are half right.
We need to correct the problems of crime in black communities and change the perceptions of the minds of the young men and women of these communities that has been driving them to destroy the very communities they live in whenever a perceived injustice takes place. Just as important however is the need for police to understand their role in serving the community better, learn new techniques to subdue or arrest criminals-or defuse a situation without using lethal force, and also that they be held accountable and fiercely prosecuted should they fail to live up to those standards we set for them.
Transparency and accountability coupled with proper limitations on the authority given to police will go a long way in solving that issue. There does need to be changes made in the communities these men and women are serving as well.
The fact that black leaders are refusing to openly discuss or diverting the conversation from the issue of the decaying state of black communities all over this country is appalling. Their deflection from this issue only serves to increase the problem and does more harm to these communities than good. The issue is always diverted to racial bias; and I get that, but most cops aren't racist and even black police officers commit the same kinds of violations on the citizenry as their white counterparts.
Let us not forget the fact that black police violence on whites also exists. It will be argued that violence is always worse when the officer is white and the criminal black, but white on black crime is reported far more often than the reverse and even police statistics and criminal databases don't always reflect the race of the individuals involved.
Police Unions are reacting poorly to De Blasio's comments after the grand jury verdict and are calling for De Blasio to be banned from attending funerals for fallen officers. They claim his remarks are disrespectful and don't reflect the views of the public at large. De Blasio defends the statements he made by saying:
"I make it a point not to talk about any element of the judicial process per se, I'd talk about what we have to do to fix the relationship between police and the community... As an executive in public service, I think it's important to respect the judicial process."
The real test for De Blasio will come after he has had time to make changes to the role of law enforcement and look at the results. Will his retraining of officers lead to a better relationship between police and the community, and will police officers actually be held accountable for their actions when the cross the boundary of their station and commit assault or murder on a citizen they are charged to protect?