Cops and complicity

Associated Press reporters Tom Hays and Colleen Long appear to be seeking to preserve their access to police. “Officers say the outcry [in reaction to a grand jury’s failure to indict white police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of Eric Garner] has left them feeling betrayed and demonized by everyone from the president and the mayor to throngs of protesters who scream at them on the street,” they write in an article wholly devoted to telling the cops’ side of the story, giving protesters no opportunity to respond to specific claims.[1]

“Police officers feel like they are being thrown under the bus,” said Patrick Lynch, president of the police union. . . .

But Lynch said: “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.” . . .

In private and on Internet chat rooms, officers say they feel demoralized, misunderstood and “all alone.” . . .

As the video sparked accusations of excessive force, the police unions mounted a counter-narrative: that Garner would still be alive if he had obeyed orders, that his poor health was the main cause of his death and that Pantaleo had used an authorized takedown move ? more like a headlock than a chokehold ? [odd punctuation in original] to subdue him. . . .

Pantaleo’s defenders have included Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who argued that the grand jury outcome would have been the same if Garner had been white and that police were right to ignore his pleas that he couldn’t breathe.

“The fact that he was able to say it meant he could breathe,” said King, the son of a police officer.

“And if you’ve ever seen anyone locked up, anyone resisting arrest, they’re always saying, ‘You’re breaking my arm, you’re killing me, you’re breaking my neck.’ So if the cops had eased up or let him go at that stage, the whole struggle would have started in again.”[2]

The problem of access to sources has gained increased significance for reporters as the number of media outlets with reporters competing for stories has mushroomed. Institutional sources in particular now hold the upper hand in choosing which reporters they will grant interviews, which they might grant favors, which they might allow to “scoop” their colleagues. And police are among those sources, especially important for reporters on the ‘crime’ beat.[3]

Still, the story is reprehensible. It is widely acknowledged that Garner died in an illegal chokehold. As Eugene Robinson put it,

There should have been an indictment in the Ferguson case, in my view, but at least the events that led to Michael Brown’s killing were in dispute. Garner’s homicide was captured on video. We saw him being choked, heard him plead of his distress, watched as no attempt was made to revive him and his life slipped away.[4]

As National Review columnist Jim Geraghty put it,

There are a lot of times where we in the conservative world greet claims of police abuse with great skepticism, suspecting that a criminal is attempting to get attention, sympathy, publicity, and/or a lucrative financial settlement out of actions that just represent police officers doing their job.

The case of Eric Garner isn’t one of those times.

For starters, this is not the typical “one side claims X happened, the other side claims Y happened” dispute. The incident was caught on videotape. We can watch the chilling moment as Garner literally gasped, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe” as the cops were on top of him.

Secondly, the New York City medical examiner declared the victim’s death a homicide. Uh-oh.[5]

Uh-oh, indeed. Geraghty goes on to cite the case for charging Pantaleo with second-degree manslaughter.[6]

Remember that the purpose of a grand jury is not to establish guilt, but rather to determine whether charges should be brought. But instead of seeking to prosecute, prosecutors in both the Garner and Mike Brown cases seem to have sought to exonerate cops under suspicion.

Accountability is a basic necessity wherever anyone has power over others. And as I’ve commented previously, cops lie at an extreme position in society, solely empowered to use lethal force on a domestic civilian population.[7] What we are seeing, in too many cases, is not only that we have foxes guarding henhouses, but we have foxes bearing the full authority of the state protecting the foxes guarding the henhouses. We have complicity, not only among cops themselves, but their superiors, prosecutors, and at least a couple of Associated Press reporters.

  1. [1]Tom Hays and Colleen Long, “Police: Chokehold Victim Complicit in Own Death,” ABC News, December 5, 2014,
  2. [2]Tom Hays and Colleen Long, “Police: Chokehold Victim Complicit in Own Death,” ABC News, December 5, 2014,
  3. [3]David Croteau and William Hoynes, Media/Society: Industries, Images, and Audiences, 3rd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge, 2003).
  4. [4]Eugene Robinson, “The Eric Garner case’s sickening outcome,” Washington Post, December 3, 2014,
  5. [5]Jim Geraghty to National Review Morning Jolt list, “Every Once in a While, the Cop Isn’t the Good Guy in the Story,” December 4, 2014,
  6. [6]Jim Geraghty to National Review Morning Jolt list, “Every Once in a While, the Cop Isn’t the Good Guy in the Story,” December 4, 2014,
  7. [7]David Benfell, “Cops, gangs, and the conflation of roles,” August 6, 2011,

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