You had to pity New York Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill as he defended his firing of white Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the chokehold death five years ago of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who had resisted arrest.
Commissioner O’Neil unburdened himself of his angst while leading a televised press conference Monday morning.
He recounted how, on a Long Island street five years ago, Mr. Pantaleo, a much-decorated New York City cop, used a chokehold during a struggle with Garner. The unarmed, 6-foot, 3-inch, 350-pound, 43-year-old man of African descent was resisting arrest.
Mr. Pantaleo testified that he had never used the chokehold on Garner and if he had, he did it unintentionally in the course of the struggle.
It was said that the chokehold helped bring on an asthma attack that killed Garner. He suffered from asthma, heart disease and obesity.
Before that fateful day, he had repeatedly clashed with local merchants and police for illegally selling untaxed cigarettes.
An out-of-state chief medical examiner testified that Garner died of medical problems that had nothing to do with the chokehold.
The NYPD had arrested Garner more than 30 times since 1980 for assault, resisting arrest and grand larceny. When Mr. Pantaleo attempted to arrest him, Garner was out on bail for driving without a license, marijuana possession, false impersonation and selling untaxed cigarettes.
A Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Mr. Pantaleo. Local FBI investigators and prosecutors said no charges should be brought. And last month, Attorney General William P. Barr said Mr. Pantaleo should not face charges.
The city had already settled a wrongful death suit in with Garner’s family for $5.9 million in 2015.
Yes, Garner’s cigarette sales were petty criminality but unacceptable under a zero-tolerance regimen. Someone with authority in the ranks of the NYPD had decided that zero tolerance à la former Mayors Rudolph W. Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg needed to be applied in that part of Staten Island.
When Mr. Pantaleo and other cops confronted Garner the day he died, Garner told them to leave him alone and that he would not submit to arrest.
Commissioner O’Neill admitted in a Monday morning press conference that when he was a street cop, he might have made the same “mistake” under the same life-or-death stress as Mr. Pantaleo.
The commissioner also acknowledged that as a cop, he would be angry with a police commissioner who fired him for the same act.
“If I were still a cop, I would probably be mad at me,” Commissioner O’Neill said.
In attempting to arrest Garner, Mr. Pantaleo used a chokehold that a coroner said caused Garner’s death. N.Y. police regs prohibit the chokehold in specified circumstances. In resisting arrest, Garner momentarily put Mr. Pantaleo’s life in danger, the commissioner said.
How often has TV news slapped our faces with the images of people resisting “white privileged” law enforcement — even when the arresting officer is of African or Latino heritage?
The press and the liberals who occupy the commanding heights of our society have encouraged several generations of “oppressed” criminal suspects to feel “empowered” or even obligated to resist “the man.”
The man — meaning a white lawman — in some instances and at one time might well have been a brutal hater of people of other races. Some, maybe many, lawmen may still be haters but find any tendency they may have toward brutality curbed.
By what or whom?
By decades of administrations and police forces in cities across America enforcing — some stringently, others less so — the rules of fairness in the treatment minorities.
Yet we see resisting-arrest incidents in the news so often that we’d be shocked to catch a glimpse of what used to be a normal arrest.
Normal was when the arrestee complied peacefully because, whether the arrest was justified and carried out fairly, the arrestee thought it’s giggle-bin bonkers to curse, punch, slap, wrestle, kick or pull a gun on an armed officer of the law with a badge pinned to his chest.
But this is the USA nearing the end of the first quarter of the 21st century, when the diverse population of America’s largest city elected and reelected — by a 66.5 percent majority — Bill de Blasio as mayor. And culturally diverse populations in other big cities across America elected their own version of Mr. de Blasio.
Mr. de Blasio’s New York turns the rule of law upside down, as have other “progressive” city governments nearly around the country. But none of those others has a resident population of anything approaching the 9 million persons New York has.
All the more noteworthy that Mr. de Blasio’s perspective is incapable of distinguishing between criminal rule and the rule of law.
Mr. de Blasio has New York’s government, including top law enforcement officials, publicly siding with criminals over law enforcement officers.
It’s not that Mr. de Blasio is so brain-drained that he doesn’t know resisting arrest jeopardizes the lives of the resistor and the arresting officers.
Or at least it used to.
Now it puts the law enforcer’s life in danger. The criminal suspect now is a protected species.
For law enforcement to do what its name says, every officer’s safety has to be paramount.
For the law to rule, the officer must be the one granted the benefit of any doubt. Period.
Unless the lawman enjoys the benefit of the doubt (well short, however, of total immunity from premeditated or reckless wrongdoing), law enforcement can’t enforce. It’s not a perfect modus vivendi but it’s necessary.
In this case, the arrest resistor had thrown the officer against a huge plate glass window that was beginning to buckle.
The police commissioner likely feared the mayor’s firing him for not doing what the commissioner knew the mayor wanted. So the commissioner said the chokehold was OK when the officer’s life was in danger as the window was buckling but not a second or two later when the officer had the resistor on the ground and could have switched to a different hold.
Oh, come on! I’m not sure even a high-school wrestling star would think to — or be able to — switch holds in a tense resisting-arrest situation.
If you resist arrest, be prepared to suffer the consequences. That should be the rule. Period. It’s not.
At fault is the long drift in our society to the acceptance of an “oppressed” minority’s right and obligation to resist arrest, based on the claim that all police are all bad all the time.
At fault, too, is the opprobrium that the much of the press and many liberals attach to the policy of zero tolerance for even minor law-breaking.
Commissioner O’Neill has been pulled every which way by the Garner case. He deserves some sympathy.
But you’d have to have novocaine in your brain to think Commissioner O’Neill is on the level when he says firing Mr. Pantaleo was his idea and not that of Mr. de Blasio, who is lost somewhere in a herd of hopefuls chasing the Democratic presidential nomination.
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