White Magic

huffpo on eric garner non indictment

Civil rights attorney Lisa Bloom, speaking about the travesty of justice in the killing of Eric Garner by a New York City cop—Garner was accused of selling untaxed cigarettes, for God’s sake, and Officer Daniel Pantaleo apparently choked him to death—said this on MSNBC this afternoon:

I feel like I’ve been kicked in the gut, again. Shame on us! Shame on us for having a criminal justice system that seems completely incapable of prosecuting a white police officer for the death of an African-American.

We seem entirely unable to do that, even when we have a video tape, even when we have a man who posed no danger to anyone, according to anyone. Even when we have a coroner who says the death was a homicide. Even when the police, on the videotape, applied a chokehold to Eric Garner, which is against NYPD rules. If we can’t get an indictment in this case, we can’t get an indictment in any case involving the death of an African-American at the hands of a white police officer. 

If Ferguson was not a wake-up call, this case better be.

Not much to say after that. Just watch the video of the incident again—if you can stomach it—and wonder why it is that black lives seem to matter so little to some policemen, and wonder what the grand jury in New York was, or wasn’t, thinking:



  1. Anonymous

     /  December 3, 2014

    This officer used a chokehold banned by his department with half a dozen other officers present. Eric Garner was not violent toward any officer, but was killed. Is this another “suicide by cop”? The last two incidents were on video and can’t be rationally interpreted as such. If police are going to use banned tactics, it makes absolutely no sense for our government to militarize the police with automatic weapons, MRAP’s, Humvees, etc… to also utilize against the citizenry. The President, the AG, and Congress need to earn their pay and resolve to stop the killing. The restraint shown by the families, friends, and affected parties cannot be expected to remain as benign as the inflammatory statement made by Mike Brown’s stepfather. The injustice served by the prosecutors influencing the grand juries to no bill these incompetent police officers will not end well for anyone. Sadly, the only hope remaining is for national intervention


  2. Anonymous

     /  December 3, 2014

    This officer used a chokehold banned by his department with half a dozen other officers present. Eric Garner was not violent toward any officer, but was killed. Is this another “suicide by cop”? The last two incidents were on video and can’t be rationally interpreted as such. If police are going to use banned tactics, it makes absolutely no sense for our government to militarize the police with automatic weapons, MRAP’s, Humvees, etc… to also utilize against the citizenry. The President, the AG, and Congress need to earn their pay and resolve to stop the killing. The restraint shown by the families, friends, and affected parties cannot be expected to remain as benign as the inflammatory statement made by Mike Brown’s stepfather. The injustice served by the prosecutors influencing the grand juries to no bill these incompetent police officers will not end well for anyone. Sadly, the only hope remaining is for a national intervention.


    • I want to use your comment to make a point about what I have seen so far, regarding the apparent injustices we have seen lately: African-Americans have had the patience of Job so far. Maybe that’s attributable to experience–rioting serves no practical purpose and only feeds the fear of the public and empowers the reactionaries–or maybe it’s attributable to the influence of the black church, or some other reason. But we are fortunate as a society that black people are showing considerable restraint, considering what these high-profile cases reveal about not only the actions of, hopefully, only a few bad actors in law enforcement, but, perhaps more important, what they reveal about the attitudes of the right-wing in this country, a group of people who have devalued the concerns of minorities in this allegedly “post-racial” America.


  3. ansonburlingame

     /  December 4, 2014


    51 comments and counting on the Do Black Lives Matter blog and now we start anew on the NYC case. Obviously hot topics. I stick to the NYC case in this comment.

    Trial by media is not good for America, period. I watched several hours, last night and this morning, with pundits, etc. speaking on the NYC case with all the emphasis on the video. The “choke hold” was the focus for sure. Having been subjected to such training very long ago, the issue is how to take a man “down” when he resists arrest, I can understand why the cops used that particular tactic. No I am not advocating use of that tactic, just understand why it was used in the “heat of the moment”. But a taser would have been my weapon of choice as well.

    My first reaction to the video was why no taser was used. Did the cops have one between the four of them assembled around the man, about 6’5″, 350 pounds of a man that refused to allow himself to be handcuffed, before the cops tried to “take him down” simply to cuff him. I suppose they could have just walked away and given up on trying to arrest a man arguing with them. But would they be doing their job as cops to have done so? Were the cops irrational in trying to arrest the man?

    All the media coverage so far has been exclusively from people outraged or deeply concerned about the video, the arrest and certainly what they saw as a choke hold. I have yet to hear an advocate for the cop speak out. The entire message is “look at the video”, that’s all anyone needs to see and hear in order to indict. So why did the grand jury take 5 months to make a decision?

    What other testimony and evidence was shown to the grand jury not yet seen or heard by the public? In this case there were 23 men and women on that grand jury. Were they all just dummies to allow a whole range of evidence to be presented, hear both sides if you will, before they made a decision? Would you have simply looked at the video and voted, immediately to indict? Is that blind justice?

    As in Ferguson, the NYC prosecutor’s judgment is being challenged. Should charges now be immediately filed against that NYC prosecutor or is more work needed before any charges are filled in accordance with the law, not media coverage and protests?

    One elem\ent unmentioned until I saw Sharpton on CBS this morning, the NYC police union. Sharpton correctly pointed out that union was an advocate for the cop. Is that wrong for a union to so engage in a legal process? Have you ever seen a union stand by and let a member stand alone in the face of …….? Sharpton implied at least that the union should have done just that, not advocate on behalf of a member.

    Now remember if you can, that all members of both grand juries were not sequestered. They could see the outrage in the media for the entire time they met and deliberated. I am sure each member knew full well the public outcry that would result if they decided not to indict. So why did they take the hard road to counter public opinion in both cases?

    We will never know for sure, what went on in the minds of all members of both grand juries. All we will know for sure is enough members of both juries did not believe an indictment was warranted in both cases. Did both cities convene a grand jury of “dummies”, racists, people with no compassion for minorities, members being completely unreasonable in terms of upholding the law as they interpreted it?

    Or is it possible that the majority of members of each grand jury were in fact honest and unbiased citizens simply trying to follow the law? Same applies to the Martin/Zimmerman trial as well.

    Our system of justice, ultimately, leaves decisions to juries, in most cases. Advocates for the prosecution and the defense each can do their job to advocate in a real trial and the jury decides, period. In a grand jury the tables are slanted to the prosecution with NO defense allowed, at least from defense attorneys. Now both prosecutors are accused of being slanted to the defense of a cop. Or instead did they, again in NYC, simply lay out the facts they knew and “let the jury decide”, again? Is that illegal, immoral, etc.?

    Yes, I was surprised by the NYC grand jury decision. But I have no idea, yet, why that made that decision. 23 men and women made it however and I for one am not going to protest against them and their decision. My default position in such matters is that I must trust a jury to do the correct things and no way can I second guess such a jury decision without firm evidence to show they railroaded the decision for no good reason(s).

    In the military I sat in judgment of accused sailors. I have sat on one criminal jury since moving to Joplin. None of you have any idea what went through my mind when I fulfilled such responsibities as a Commmissioned Officer and a citizen. I can only claim, and know within myself, that I exercised the best judgment I could muster to fulfill my legal and moral responsibilities in all such cases.

    I have had “nightmares” about bad decisions I have made in my life. But I can assure you when I sat in judgment of others in legal matters I have never regreted such decisions once I made them, unilaterally or in working with others.

    My guess is that all members of both grand juries that decided to not indict are now comfortable with their own decisions. Are each of those people dummies, red necks or other slurs for exercising their own best judgment(s).

    But for sure, if the evidence presented was biased, slanted, etc., well go after any prosecutor you can find if you like but then stand ready to prove your case beyond a reasonable doubt to other honest and well meaning citizens.



    • Anson,

      1) Agreed. Media outlets don’t make good courtrooms, which is precisely why the grand juries in St. Louis and New York should have directed the action to a real courtroom, where there are rules of evidence and, hopefully, some semblance of the truth might emerge. 

      2) Eric Garner was not, as you suggested, “resisting arrest.” No rational interpretation of his exchange with the cops will support such a charge. What I saw was a man essentially surrendering, with his hands up, to the police, which is why he went down so easily. I’m guessing, if he had wanted to, he could have made it much more difficult to subdue him. Perhaps, now that he’s dead, he should have done more to resist. Maybe he’d still be with us to talk about it. And, yes, the cops should have tazed him, if they were so goddamned hell-bent on arresting him for selling smokes on the street. Otherwise, they shouldn’t have bothered him at all. I understand he had been arrested dozens of times for the same “crime,” so what was the point? (Which is why he protested to them to leave him alone.)

      3) The grand jury took so long because the prosecutor took so long to present evidence. As I heard someone say this morning, if Eric Garner had killed the cop on the street, whether in front of a camera or not, he would have been indicted in a matter of a few days.

      4) We don’t need any other evidence to support an indictment, Anson. The video is enough to establish “probable cause,” which is the bar that has to be overcome. It’s normally a rather low bar, especially when the accused is black, but when the accused is a white policeman, accused of killing an unarmed black man, the bar suddenly gets very high. Wonder why that is?

      5) The Staten Island prosecutor, who could have guess it, is a Republican up for reelection next year. Rumor has it he is thinking about running for the seat of Republican congressman Michael Grimm, who has been a target of a federal investigation and who just may end up in the hoosegow someday (which didn’t stop voters from putting him back in office last month).  So, it is doubtful any “charges” will be filed against him for anything. By the way, he is trying to get the grand jury transcript out, which has to be okayed by a court. We shall soon see how “fair” he was to justice for Eric Garner.

      6) Unions are generally in the business of serving their members, that is absolutely true. But they are not legally obligated to do anything but give fair representation to a member in trouble, which may include urging the member to, say, resign from his or her position, if it appears the case is rock-solid against him. I can speak to this issue because I personally (and reluctantly) signed off on the termination of one of my members, knowing he would not survive an arbitration battle. I made the best deal I could for him, under the circumstances.

      I assume police unions are somewhat different from other unions, in that there are life-and-death matters involved, and admitting to the wrongful killing of a suspect carries with it not just the loss of a job, but the loss of one’s freedom. Naturally in those situations, there is the tendency to do everything possible to muddy the waters and get the guy off, unless, of course, there is no ambiguity involved and the guy is obviously guilty.

      7) We don’t know whether there was unanimity among the New York grand jurors or whether it was a close vote (a majority was needed), but we do know that at least 12 of them distrusted what their eyes had to tell them when they watched that video, which, in my mind, defeats the traditional purpose of a grand jury. Perhaps like in St. Louis they got bad instructions, perhaps they were persuaded by the cops’ testimony (they are experts at testifying, keep in mind), or perhaps it was some other reason. In my opinion, though, they do not escape criticism for what is obviously a bad decision. That video was in itself enough to establish probable cause, as I said.

      8) Your “default position,” you said is to “trust a jury to do the correct things.” That’s everyone’s default position. But it only a default position. When your eyes tell you they made a bad decision, you can come off default. Why they made their decision, whether they were “dummies, red necks or other slurs,” is secondary to whether they got it right. They didn’t.



  4. Ben Field

     /  December 4, 2014

    It is irritating when people who have no knowledge of unions speak of their practices as if they do. As a union member, I can assure you if I cause the death of another in the performance of my duties, it does not matter if I am innocent or guilty as far as the union is concerned. I will not receive any legal assistance from them in my defense. I am not in the police union, but the majority of unions do not offer what you suggest. I’ll let Duane respond to the rest of your comments, but please do not speak of union members as if you know what you are talking about.


  5. ansonburlingame

     /  December 5, 2014

    Duane and Ben,

    First the union issue. Ben, I have never been a member of a union, but I dealt with union members and union leadership many times, formally and informally. Unions go to great lengths to protect their members which is fine with me. But when the real evidence is stacked against a member it is time to do as Duane suggests, negoitate the best deal possible, which usually is termination for really egregious infractions of common sense safety rules. I could post another wall of text with such examples.

    Now the video, the only evidence that I have seen (other than Gardner was on parole and thus had previous arrests and convictions). Clearly to me, Gardner did not want to be arrested and cuffed. He was waving his arms, not holding them up in surrender, trying to prevent an arrest. He was doing his best, without throwing a punch or running, to keep from being arrested. The cops stood there, patiently waiting for him to calm down, it seemed to me.

    None of us know how long that “conversation” (confrontation?) took place before the take down. All I saw, before the take down was a frightened (maybe) and angry (upset?) man trying to talk his way out of an arrest. Ultimately the take down happened. Should the cops have just given up and walked away?

    Now for selling cigarettes illegally. Minor offense for sure. But it appears he had been arrested before, for the same offense I don’t yet know. How many times had he been so arrested and for what charges? I don’t know, do you? Remember there were some 50 witnesses involved. Anyone know what that testimony entailed? I sure don’t.

    Duane at least agrees that trial by media is wrong. That is a good basis to agree upon, despite whichever side we come down on before a trial happens.

    We all know grand juries are usually rubber stamps for prosecutors. They follow the lead of prosecutors in most cases. Well is it just possible that in Ferguson and NYC both prosecutors felt a “no true bill” was warranted but wanted a grand jury to confirm that decision? Is that illegal or even immoral? A grand jury is suppose to independently confirm that sufficient evidence is available to justify probable cause of a crime. Well is it possible that probable cause was NOT evident in both cases and such a decision was reached by honest and unbiased citizens? Remember, an arrest is NOT a crime. The manner of such arrest might be, however.

    Unless one is ready to challenge the honesty and unbiased nature of 23 men and women there are only two explanations left to consider. The grand jury reached an honest and unbiased decision in their own minds OR the prosecutor exercised terrible judgment, bordering on illegal judgment in presenting the evidence in an unfair and slanted manner.

    I can at least imagine a situation where a grand jury would rebel against a prosecutor, saying essentially “you might think you have enough evidence to indict but we disagree”. Or the grand jury could have been led around by the nose to view only slanted and unfair portrayl of evidence available, evidence that certainly would come out in a public trial.

    Think of it this way. Maybe, just maybe, the real evidence supporting no true bill was at such a level for that postion that a first year lawyer, right out of podunk law school could have won a public trial for the defense of the cops. Should a grand jury go ahead and indict? Not if I was on such a grand jury, I assure you.

    We all know what the cops did for about 2 or so minutes. Why one cop or a group of them did what they did, we have yet to hear any evidence stating that case, the motivation of the cop(s). None of us know how the prosecutor felt during the grand jury trial as well.

    All anyone knows for sure is what was in the video. And I saw things in the video not yet acknowledged by advocates against the cops as well. Was I looking for exoneration of the cop(s). No, I was not doing that. I only looked at a video and tried to see what I saw, all aspects of what was shown, not just a choke hold that might not have been an intentional choke hold, intending to literally choke a man, much less choke a man to death. Instead I saw an argument and then a take down on the streets. Had that man not died I would have judged the actions by the cops as justified in their attempts to arrest someone that did not want to be arrested.

    Had that man been a 6’5″, 350 pound white supremist, with tattoes galore, and a rap sheet of unknown length, do you also think Sharpton would have been on TV in defense of the man?



    • Ben Field

       /  December 5, 2014


      Let me break it to you, you’re racist. Don’t get excited, I’m not saying you’re the Imperial Wizard of the KKK but I’m not so sure about your friend, Geoff Caldwell. Most Americans over say ??? 40 years of age have been exposed to it, and to some degree all of us have it. A lot of people, right, now divide that number by two. About that many accept that it is wrong and consciously try to better themselves. The other half (your half) has outright racists (i.e…Geoff) and the ones that don’t say that in front of them, but later when it just is white boys, well…… or the ones that are so unconscious they don’t even realize they are. George Bush, hell even Fox’s Krauthammer came and said the grand jury got it wrong. (because of the prosecutor’s steering efforts) but you still refuse to acknowledge this or your racism. You also say you’ve “dealt with” unions in the past. Dealt with means to handle or manage, so I highly doubt that. Trade unions have no problem dealing with people of your demeanor on a regular basis, and they would be managing you. Damn those video and phone recordings if you will, but I’m here to tell you not one RATIONAL and IMPARTIAL human could view that and not say a trial was in order. Wall o text right back atcha!


  6. ansonburlingame

     /  December 6, 2014

    As usual, the default position of men like you is that I am a racist!! As well I am obviously anti-union in all cases (most cases).

    No way can a rational and meaningful debate take place with such preconceived notions. A racist is one with preconceived bias against others because of the race of “others”. A union buster is one with a preconceived bias against any union position. Words and actions follow such biases.

    At my advanced age I know pretty well what my motives and fundamental “instincts” are in most situations. I suggest you just ignore anything I say or write and I will return the favor to you.

    I am not racist or anti-union as a default and fundamental postion taken in matters related to race or unions. I would add that when I write about issues you react now “like a monkey” in my view. That is not a racial slur, but slur, you bet!!


    PS: It seems Gardner had been arrested 31 different times and was on parole at the time of the take down. No wonder he did not want to be arrested, again!!


    • Anson,

      Due to the length of this reply, you and I will likely be the only ones tuned in. But here goes:

      1. Yes, pockets of racism exist. And this piece was about one such pocket in our state.

      2. I do not agree that “racism works both ways.” Racism only works for the racists in power, which, in our culture, historically has been whites. This seems to be a point that conservatives either a) don’t understand or b) refuse to accept.

      3. Your hypothetical about a “white only protest” marching through “South Chicago supporting the cops” is just that, a hypothetical. You won’t see such a march because of the point I made above. Whites don’t have to make such a statement because they are ultimately the power-brokers in this society.

      4. It may be the case that the cop who put the chokehold on Eric Garner did not do so because the cop is a racist. The Garner case has two initial points: excessive use of force for a comparatively trivial offense and the excessive use of force that disproportionately is used against black people—for whatever reason. There is also the additional point, perhaps the most prominent of all, of the seeming lack of urgency in trying to revive Eric Garner, which gives some support to claims by blacks that their lives don’t matter as much as whites’.

      5. You wrote, “Continuing to claim that only blacks suffer from racial animus from law enforcement creates yet another race dispute, approaching levels of violence.” See (2.) above. We are talking about how law enforcement, largely a tool in the hands of whites, is—or isn’t—sometimes used in racially discriminatory ways. You seem to be worried about “race riots.” You should also be worried about slow-motion violence against black citizens at the hands of the police.

      6. I, too, support the police “when events become a ‘close call.'” It’s the not-so-close-calls that are causing all the fuss. In both Ferguson and New York City there is obviously enough evidence to at least establish “probable cause” that a crime was committed. In Ferguson, you have eye-witnesses who claim that Brown was shot while he had his hands up (no matter what you have heard from people like Bill O’Reilly, some of those witnesses’ testimony was not discredited). In New York you have the video, which speaks for itself. No one is saying that in either case there is enough evidence to actually convict the officer of a crime. All I am saying is that trials were necessary in order to establish, one way or the other, whether the officers were justified.

      7. I can’t comment on the “black activist” you referenced, since I didn’t see him. Suffice it to say, most people, including most black people, would not agree with him, if you characterized his position correctly. As Obama has said many times, blacks are beneficiaries of good policing because they tend to live in the most crime-plagued parts of cities.

      8. You are, of course, free to “disengage” or to “continue to comment,” as you please. I, though, will continue to write about “issues of race” whenever I see the need to do so. Just because you, or anyone else, has decided that the “police use of force” should only be discussed “in non-racial terms,” doesn’t mean that I am obliged to agree with you.

      9. As for the accusation that one or more commenters have now and in the past made against you—calling you a racist—let me say that I am very careful in applying that word to individuals. As you know, “racism” strictly means the belief that one’s race is superior to another’s race, necessarily implying the idea that the superior race should rule over the other. Historically, there is no doubt that America was founded by, and for years was governed by, racists, as black slaves were used to economically benefit white people.

      You have never given me any reason to suspect that, despite your admittedly racist upbringing in Kentucky in the 1940s and 1950s, that you think white people are inherently superior to black people. But just like it is true that America still has a lot of work to do to rid itself of the legacy of slavery and white supremacy—our cultural institutions, after all, were built and maintained for years in that context—individual whites living in this culture also have work to do. That includes you and that includes me.

      Without going into detail, I was also raised with the idea that somehow blacks were inferior to whites. For whatever reason, I never consciously embraced that idea. Perhaps it was because in my lower working-class neighborhood, most of the kids I played with when I was very young were black kids. My next-door neighbors to the east, less than 30 feet away, were black. Across the street lived black people. Across the alley in the back lived black people. Down the street lived even more black people. I was surrounded by African-American kids my entire young life. In all the ways that I could see, they seemed just like me.

      In elementary school and junior high, one of my best friends was black (forget the cliché). I spent a lot of time in or near his home, a few blocks away from mine. I walked the streets with him and played neighborhood sports with him. In high school, my best friend was a black kid a year older than I. We spent nearly every school night together, riding around in his car delivering newspapers (it was his job, not mine) and then later cruising and listening to music (some might find it odd, but he was a fan of Steely Dan like I was).

      But having said all that, I still catch myself getting a little irritated by, for instance, certain things I see in hip-hop culture, including the attitudes in some, but not all, of the music. I have to check myself sometimes. I have to remind myself that things like wearing your pants in a certain way is just an expression, a way of fitting into a specific “tribe,” if you will. I have my own specific micro-tribes I belong to. You have yours. We act and dress accordingly. We should be open-minded enough to allow others the luxury of belonging to, and conforming to, their own smaller tribes. But sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we look down on other tribes. Sometimes we think ours is superior.

      In the same way, you and I belong, by birth, to a larger tribe of “white people.” Because we belong to that tribe, we have inherited certain benefits that come with our skin color. And we have inherited certain prejudices against that other larger tribe of “black people.” If we work hard, we can overcome many of those prejudices. But it is often really hard work. Some of the prejudices we hold we may not consciously be aware of. We may think we have rid ourselves of all the bad qualities of our upbringing, but it is inevitable that at least a few remain. That is just the nature of the case. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we react to black people in ways that look a lot like a form of, a much milder form of, the racism that not only served as the cultural backdrop for much of our nation’s history, but as the backdrop for our childhoods.

      I will also suggest to you that because you and I belong to that larger tribe of white people, it is very hard for us, as part of the historically dominant tribe in this society, to get inside the heads of members of the black tribe. We may think we can do so, but it is really hard to pull it off. Our tribe was the oppressor, their tribe was the object of the oppression. That reality makes for very different ways of looking at the world, for understanding the way things work, for teaching children how to make their way through life.

      As whites, we may think it is pretty simple: the old laws have been changed to reflect racial equality, so, dammit, just get on with it! Work hard and you will prosper now, we might say. You are every bit as free as we are! Except it isn’t that simple. Black people still face a lot of race-based resistance in this society. Some of that resistance is structural—see voting restrictions that disproportionately affect African-Americans, for instance—and some of it is found in the fact that feelings of white superiority still exist among members of our tribe, members who still mostly run things. You grew up in the 40s and 50s with it. I grew up in the 60s and early 70s with it.

      And while it is true that such attitudes of white superiority have diminished, they still exist. An AP poll a few years ago found that “51% of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes.” The legacy of white supremacy, from slavery to Jim Crow, still infects white minds and still harms black people in so many ways, ways that you and I might be tempted to discount because we don’t experience them, don’t feel them in our bones.

      All this is a long way of saying that you are not a racist in the historical sense. But like so many white people, including myself, we carry in our heads some residue of racist thinking, of thinking that our group of people with white skin is in some way or another superior to that other group of people without it. So, when you say, “I have read and talked myself beyond” racial animus, you may be right. I don’t believe for a second that you harbor any malevolent ill will toward black people simply because they are black. But neither you nor I can read or talk ourselves beyond all the racial prejudice that still lingers somewhere in our tribe-conditioned minds, especially when we interpret what it means when we see a black kid with drooping pants or when we watch a cop choke a black man to death on the streets of New York City.




  7. Ben Field

     /  December 6, 2014


    I asked you to not get excited. Do yourself a favor a copy and paste the link above and see how you fell after reading it. You are not being honest to say white Americans do not have racism towards minorities, I am not saying practicing it, I am saying it sub-consciously and sometimes consciously affects decision making. C’mon you were raised in Kentucky and never heard a joke, epithet, or bias that you didn’t call someone out on. I admitted that I have racial bias that I have caught myself in the past and still today, but I make an effort to recognize and ignore it. If in fact you are the perfect human and are not influenced by society or peers, then I would be sorry. But you’re not, so get off your high horse. There are many conservatives that are self conscious and admit the prejudice and wrongs that Duane has posted, but not you. By the way, I am a fun loving thing that sometimes acts a little scatter-brained, but I am honest!


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