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POINT OF LAW: Death of Blacks at Hands of Police - Legal?

  • By David Barron

By G. Monty Manibog
Black teenager Michael Brown was shot to death by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner, also black, died from a police applied chokehold in New York City and a 12 year old black man was shot and killed by police while playing with a toy gun.

 This has led to speculation among many blacks that there is a conspiracy among white police officers to kill black men and boys.
“Not so”, declared grand juries that refused to indict the police officers, seeing no criminal intent.
And while society owes a debt of gratitude to police officers in general, who risk their lives on a daily basis to protect our citizens, each case should be scrutinized and, if there is any indications of at least disregard or negligent behavior in causing death by police action, the prosecuting attorney and/ or grand juries should consider possible criminal action and give the Brown and Garner families their day in court.
While the Ferguson grand jury’s decision was understandable, being that Mike Brown struck the officer and had struggled for the officer’s gun, the Garner case is somewhat different in that Garner was being arrested for a very petty offense (selling untaxed cigarettes) that called for no more than a citation and fine, and was brought down by a total of 4 officers, one applying a chokehold from the back which directly caused Garners death.
As a former World Olympic (XV Olympics, Helsinki Finland) and national champion wrestler, I am most aware that chokeholds are extremely dangerous and referees regularly intervene to stop chokeholds during wrestling matches.
Chokeholds are not permitted in wrestling competitions and police departments across the country, including the New York Police Department, forbid it. Yet New York police officer Daniel Pontaleo applied that fatal chokehold while three other officers were trying to take Garner down.
What further aggravated the problem was that the chokehold was maintained while Garner was saying, “I can’t breath” and was made to lay unconscious on the ground for 4 hours before paramedics arrived, being given no lifesaving aid during those hours.
While the grand jury appropriately found there was no intentional action to hold Garner, it appears that the officer willingly applied a dangerous and life threatening maneuver that was likely to cause death or serious injury.
Under the circumstances a jury could possibly determine that at least an involuntary manslaughter charge could be made.
While such a criminal trial may end up with an innocent verdict, at least an indictment and trial would have given officer Pontaleo an opportunity to defend his highly negligent action and the Garner family their day in court.
The bottom line is that a chokehold applied from behind renders the victim helpless and could easily result in death, something police officers should be well aware of, especially since police departments recognize and forbid it. Even though there may not be criminal proceedings, civil action by Garner’s family is most likely.

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