By Bo Dietl
It wasn’t a chokehold.
That’s just the biggest single distortion in all the talk about the Eric Garner case, in which the public has been misinformed and misled from the start.
The Rev. Al Sharpton has never had to put himself in harm’s way to protect our streets against crime, as our police officers do every day. He’s in no way qualified to stand on his soapbox and dictate procedures.
I spent decades in law enforcement. During my time with the NYPD, I was responsible for over 1,400 felony arrests – any of which could’ve required the use of deadly physical force.
Volunteering to be a decoy cop in the 1970s, I was the victim of more than 500 muggings, about 30 of which injured me seriously enough that I was hospitalized. I wound up in countless physical situations and was always able to get the perp into cuffs.
Now, as owner of a security company here in the city, I consult for police departments across the country.
I’ve served as co-chairman of the National Crime Commission and chairman of the state Security Guard Advisory Council. I have extensive experience when it comes to police procedure, safety and security.
So I speak with some authority on the events surrounding Garner’s attempted arrest and death.
It’s tragic that a life was lost, but I’m outraged at how this incident is being used to hobble the NYPD.
The officers who approached Garner were responding to community complaints about his ongoing activities. When he grew uncooperative and resisted arrest, they followed protocol on taking him into custody.
Officers are required to be as quick as possible in getting a perpetrator into custody so that he has no chance to injure the officer, innocent bystanders or himself.
Garner was 6-foot-3 and 350 pounds. Using a headlock to bring down a man of that size was appropriate.
Headlocks are used in thousands of arrests each year, especially of individuals not cooperating with the police. I used the maneuver in dozens of arrests.
And it was a headlock, not a chokehold. To be a chokehold, there must be constant pressure on the person’s neck, compressing his windpipe or cutting off the flow of blood to the carotid artery, rendering him unconscious.
Watch the video: It’s obvious that the arresting officer put his arm around Garner’s neck to bring him to the ground – but once Garner was on the ground, he was still conscious and able to say he couldn’t breathe.
That’s when the officers called for medical back-up. Tragically, the EMS personnel failed to administer oxygen or to ascertain that Garner was asthmatic and use an inhaler to assist with his breathing.
A top medical examiner (who can’t publicly fault the city ME) tells me it was very irresponsible for the Medical Examiner’s Office to issue the press release stating that Garner’s death was caused by a chokehold (with asthma, heart disease and obesity as contributing factors) and ruling his death a homicide.
Two big points: 1) The final autopsy report hasn’t been released. We don’t have the full story, just headlines. 2) “Homicide” only means that one person has caused the death of another.
The term has no bearing on intent or recklessness. The ME’s press release only poured oil on an already fiery situation.
Again, it’s unfortunate that a life was lost – but to blame Garner’s death on the officers doing their job is ridiculous.
Whatever crime you’re accused of, whether selling untaxed cigarettes or murder, you must comply with an officer making a lawful arrest. (Anyone who believes he’s been unlawfully arrested can appeal to the well-oiled machine of the Civilian Complaint Review Board.)
It’s not your right to disregard an officer’s order.
Also note that the man credited with recording the Garner video was himself later arrested for gun possession, and had 26 priors.
This doesn’t discredit the video, but it does tell us that the neighborhood where the tragedy unfolded is dangerous. And the point of cracking down on “small” crimes like selling loosies is to keep the neighborhood from going further downhill.
Tell officers not to enforce “minor” laws, and the surrounding community will grow more dangerous. Yet that is exactly what the Rev. Sharpton is demanding – an end to “broken windows” policing.
I speak to patrol officers daily; they increasingly don’t want to get involved.
If you have to second-guess your actions in taking down an assailant, that second guess allows just enough time for the assailant to possibly get a gun out – and pose a deadly threat to you and to nearby civilians. We can’t ask our officers to walk on eggshells while protecting this city.
Yes, the NYPD can make some changes – do more training in the use of force and different techniques for effecting arrests, and in how to be more courteous when stopping, questioning or (when necessary, and it sometimes is) frisking a civilian.
But this is already the most professional urban police force in America. The mayor needs to start supporting his commissioner and his officers. They’ve earned it.
Nor was this tragic accident a racial incident. Police officers have no color.
They’re not black, white, Hispanic or whatever: They’re a cohesive group of men and women who put their life on the line every day for the protection of the law-abiding citizens of this great city.
Commissioner Bill Bratton is responsible for launching the drastic improvement in the safety of this city in the 1990s, safety we’ve come to take for granted today.
Listen to him, Mr. Mayor – and don’t ever again force him to take a public chastising from Al Sharpton on how to go about keeping this city safe.
If you instead bend to the pressure to further hobble the NYPD, you’ll soon have problems much worse than having Sharpton as your enemy.