Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably heard of Eric Garner’s death at the hands of a Staten Island police officer. The declination of a grand jury to indict the officer closely followed a similar non-indictment of Darren Wilson (of Ferguson, MO notoriety). Every day since then, my news feed has been filled with similar stories of police brutality and impunity. Riots, protests, and peaceful acts of civil disobedience are happening around the country. I wonder if we’re at a tipping point with the corresponding problems of race relations and police militarization.
Of course, everyone has an opinion, and that has been splattered all over my news feed as well. A few days ago, however, something caught my eye on my friend Dan’s page. A quote by Jesse Walker perfectly captures the core issue leading to the double-headed monster of police militarization and race relations. In order to get some context, however, it’s enlightening to read a transcript of Eric Garner’s last words (caught on tape) before reading Walker’s quote:
Here is Walker’s quote from his recent Reason article (emphasis mine):
“That’s the statement of a man who was being choked figuratively long before he was choked literally. He is asserting his dignity, and then he’s being killed for it. Commentators have seen a host of social problems in Garner’s death: the impunity of abusive cops, the literally lethal consequences of criminalizing so much nonviolent behavior, the ways the effects of both that impunity and that criminalization fall more heavily on blacks than on whites. And they’re right on all those counts. But underlying all that is something more primal and universal. Eric Garner died because he decided to demand what should be the first right of any human being in a decent society: the right to peacefully live your life without being molested.”
This right to “peacefully live your life without being molested” is in exact accordance with the non-aggression principle. Force should not be used to deny a peaceful, voluntary exchange. Selling untaxed cigarettes is not a crime; there is no victim. No one’s life or property is at risk when untaxed cigarettes are sold. No one should die because they engaged in consensual, peaceful behavior, even if it’s ‘against the law.’ Wearing a uniform does not absolve you of murder (or manslaughter), nor does it excuse moral accountability. Although it is clouded by the (very important) issues of race relations and police militarization, Eric Garner’s death has rightfully put the spotlight where it belongs: on the primal, universal right of humans everywhere to live their lives peacefully without interference.
Here is the 11 minute video of the events preceding and following Garner’s arrest and death (arrest sequence begins around 4:30)