Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
Including: “The fact that he states eleven times that he can’t breathe proves he was actually breathing.”
Eric Garner was killed by a New York Police Department officer in July, 2014, over the crime of selling loose cigarettes outside a convenience mart in Staten Island. His final words—“I can’t breathe!”—have become an awful mantra for protesters demanding justice in the policing of black communities.
On Monday, New York City reached a $5.9 million settlement in the wrongful death claim filed by Garner’s family, just four days shy of the one-year anniversary of his death.
The settlement prompted a disgusted reply from Ed Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association in New York. Mullins called the settlement “obscene” and “shameful” in a column for the New York Post.
“Mr. Garner’s family should not be rewarded simply because he repeatedly chose to break the law and resist arrest,” he writes. (Emphasis added to highlight Mullins’s word choice.)
Pointed and gruesome responses are nothing new for police unions. Baltimore’s police-union chief called peaceful protesters a “lynch mob.” Cleveland’s police-union chief said that the city had “given the inmates the keys to the asylum” in response to protests. Louisville’s police union issued a straight-up threat to residents after critics questioned a police shooting.
But Garner’s death has led to more bloodless hyperboles than any other high-profile police killing of an unarmed man in the last year (of which there have been many). Here is a sampling:
August 4: “We want justice for everyone except police officers.”
—Ed Mullins, president, Sergeants Benevolent Association (press conference)
August 4: “Sometimes the use of force is necessary. But it's never pretty to watch.” —Patrick Lynch, president, New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (DNAinfo)
August 4: "What's being left out of everything that's been printed by the media is the fact that police officer [Daniel] Pantaleo didn't go to work that day with the intention of killing anyone.” —Mullins (press conference)
August 4: “The attacks on the NYPD have to stop.” —Mullins (press conference)
August 4: “Police officers deserve to go home at the end of the day in the same shape that they arrive. That's not happening now.” —Lynch (press conference)
December 5, 2014: “Police officers feel like they are being thrown under the bus.” —Lynch (CBS/Associated Press)
December 8, 2014: “The fact that he states eleven times that he can’t breathe proves he was actually breathing.” —Javier Ortiz, president, Miami Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #20 (The Washington Post)
At times, police-union chiefs have of course expressed regret for Garner’s death—but balanced always by the insistence that police were simply doing their jobs.
“Don’t congratulate us. This is not a victory,” said Gwen Carr, Garner’s mother, during a press conference on Tuesday morning. “Victory will come when we get justice.”