On Wednesday afternoon, a Staten Island grand jury dropped the criminal charges against the New York City police officer who choked Eric Garner to death while arresting him.
The fatal encounter took place in July when NYC police arrested Garner for allegedly selling loose cigarettes on the street. Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who used a chokehold on Garner, testified before a grand jury on November 21, claiming he never intended to choke Garner, and never considered him to be in mortal danger. A video recording of the arrest shows Garner yelling, “I can’t breathe,” while being restrained.
A wave of protests swept through New York City after news of the grand jury verdict was released on Wednesday evening. Thousands of demonstrators disrupted New York City traffic at locations throughout Manhattan, including Grand Central Terminal, Times Square, and near Rockefeller Center.
Civilian protests of the decision were complimented by renewed calls from elected officials for the Justice Department to intervene, claiming the ruling proved justice in this case could only be found in federal courts. Facing increased pressure, the Justice Department announced Wednesday night that it would open a civil-rights inquiry into the case.
“Now that the local investigation has concluded, I am here to announce that the Justice Department will proceed with a federal civil rights investigation into Mr. Garner’s death,” said US Attorney General Eric Holder. He went on to acknowledge that many US citizens are likely to feel inclined to protest the grand jury verdict, and he urged them to do so peacefully.
“When anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law, that is a problem,” said President Obama, “and it’s my job as president to help solve it.” Obama has already faced criticism this year for his response to unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, where a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, earlier this year.
EspañolTo reflect upon contemporary Venezuela is to contemplate a tale of absurdity. The truth is, however, that ordinary Venezuelans have almost lost their capacity for astonishment. We've become conditioned to life in a country where each day becomes still more violent and grotesque. Without a doubt, our biggest loss has been that of any societal space for collective coexistence, where all are welcomed and differences are respected without judgement. To paraphrase the great Cantinflas Venezuelans don’t act like gentlemen, but rather behave as they truly are. Perhaps that’s why hatred, intolerance, and fear have become so brazen and rooted in our public interactions. No insult flung at us by the government is accidental, but rather issued with the intention of humiliating and threatening us. They talk of peace resulting from obedience; "bow down" they tell us. Opponents of the government are accused of being funded by "the empire" — agents of foreign powers who receive money from capitalism's darkest recesses. They want us to stop thinking for ourselves, to adopt a world view wholly premised on the religion of the state. Venezuelans now face a political apartheid. The divisions among us are not drawn along racial lines, but something equally perverse: the persecution of free thought and the criminalization of those who dare to dissent. Dissidents: The New Heretics Religion does not allow for debate over founding principles; followers accept them, without question, as "acts of faith." Throughout history, religious "truths" have sparked wars and the slaughter of nonbelievers in attempt to "save their souls." In the Middle Ages, physical punishment was considered an act of purification. People at the time believed physical pain could absolve the sins of the soul. The times have changed, and today, no one would think to use a garrote against a civilian. These days, it's enough to simply declare him an enemy of the state. We are asked to view the world from a singular perspective, requiring us to relinquish the collective societal space that we hold dear. Venezuelans have seen a drastic reduction in the public discussion of ideas. This is reflected in the degradation of institutions that facilitate open debate: the closure of radio and television stations, limitations imposed on private publications so as to focus attention on state-run newspapers, the withdrawal of private advertising, and journalists' inability to gain access public officials and government information. Silence is one of the most telling characteristics of authoritarianism. One of the most vital aspects of democracy is the existence of opposition voices that initiate debate and allow for the peaceful exploration of various points and issues. We are witnesses to the silencing of the collective space, and the replacement of diverse opinions with state worship and propaganda. In a democracy, one cannot deal in absolutes, nor attempt to impose them through repression or propaganda. In a democratic society, public officials understand that they are subject to the scrutiny of others, and will be held responsible for their actions. As such, the manner in which Venezuelan politicians have reacted to public criticism is quite telling: they're incapable of self reflection, and thin-skinned to the point of neurosis. Space Program or Garbage Collection? The reality is that we are witnesses to the silencing of the collective space, and the replacement of diverse opinions with state worship and propaganda. The Venezuelan state apparatus uses all of its resources to ensure Chávez remains an omnipresent figure. The official narrative tells us that Chávez was the equal of Bolívar, an eternal and supreme leader. It is a calculated effort to try and mitigate the growing discontent among Venezuelans, resulting from government inefficiency, corruption, and abuses of power. We are promised eternal happiness, and a paradise on earth. Unfortunately, we have so far only experienced sacrifice without redemption. The state is unable to collect garbage, prevent crime, or maintain budgets for universities, and has long since destroyed its productive capabilities. The list of deficiencies in Venezuela is endless. A country where the head of state is worried about a caricature published in a regional newspaper is a country in trouble. Venezuelans live by an absurd logic. The country with the world's largest crude oil reserves imports petroleum and Christmas hams, while hospitals don't have enough medicine to meet the needs of patients with cancer, AIDS, or hypertension. We work with the Chinese to launch satellites into space, but we are unable to meet the domestic demand for chickens. We spend millions of bolívares on health programs, but can't generate adequate data on their results. We allocate public funds for baseball, but not for students to study abroad. A country where the head of state is worried about a caricature published in a regional newspaper is a country in trouble. It isn't enough to simply want things to work in politics. Our politicians make speeches, but don't deliver, at least not effectively. Venezuelans face the absurdity of life in an immensely wealthy nation which is now facing poverty, the loss of our collective coexistence, and total destruction. Translated by Peter Sacco. Edited by Laurie Blair.