Officer Melvin Santiago (L)....Eric Garner (R)
One week ago today, 23 y/o Jersey City Police Officer Melvin Santiago was murdered by a 27 y/o career violent thug named Lawrence Campbell.
Just four days later and about 10 miles away, on Thursday, July 17th, a Staten Island man named Eric Garner was killed by police officers in a scuffle (allegedly over his selling “illegal cigarettes”) in the Tompkinsville section of that borough.
The two cases clearly define the very rough edge between the two prominent urban cultures, the productive mainstream and the “thug-life” culture of the urban poor.
To be sure, BOTH Santiago and Garner were victims of that stark culture clash. Santiago was targeted by a violent career thug because he was a cop. The assailant was so insipidly convinced of the weakness of “polite society” that he told friends to “watch TV tonight, I’m gonna be famous.” He actually thought he’d live through that wanton act of war.
And why not? His family and friends quickly erected a street memorial in his honor (which the Mayor of Jersey City promptly had torn down). His widow ruefully added, “He should’ve killed more cops.”
On Staten Island, Eric Garner was no Lawrence Campbell. If anything he was an “anti-Campbell.” While Garner also had a “lengthy arrest record,” it was mostly for his “crime of choice” selling “loosies” (single cigarettes) to make a few extra bucks. From all accounts, he appeared to be a “gentle giant” (he stood over 6’4” and over 300 pounds).
In the exchange between Staten Island Police and Garner, he seemed polite, though uncooperative, “Every time you see me, you want to mess with me,” Garner can be heard saying on the cell phone video, “I'm tired of it. It stops today. I'm minding my business please just leave me alone."
The line, “It stops today,” is probably what angered Police, who probably took that as a challenge to their authority and decided, at that point that they wouldn’t talk to Garner any further and couldn’t walk away from even this low level, “crime.”
For the Police Officer’s part, they are far more used to dealing with the Lawrence Campbell’s of the world than the Eric Garner’s and ultimately they all wind up getting lumped into the same category; “low-life skell.”
Both Santiago’s and Garner’s deaths were equally shocking, equally outrageous, and should be equally disturbing, but the reaction to Garner’s death at the hands of a number of much smaller Police Officers has been of a much higher pitch and volume and that volume seems only to be growing as that over Officer Santiago’s assassination fades fainter with each passing day.
I refuse to accept the inane idea that this is somehow due to the productive mainstream being inherently “more self-reflective.”
Officer Santiago DID NOT die taking on “the inherent risks of that job.” He was targeted for assassination by an entire community...a community rooted in the culture that they are oppressed by the productive mainstream and have rightful grievances against that community, its established order and certainly against the representatives of that established order on the streets – the Police.
THAT is the crux of this dilemma.
And for the record, the “thuglife” culture does NOT “have a point,” they have NO actual grievances rooted in reality. That culture is a cancer and so is the socio-political movement that has sprung up around it, led by the likes of Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and other (political and legal) parasitic opportunists more than happy to make hay off the deaths of the urban poor for their own personal gain.
Today editorialists across the country, who as Denis Hamil acknowledges, have many times praised other, “heroic cops and their selfless, ultimate sacrifices for our city,” are now deriding the cops who apparently and egregiously overreacted in subduing a man who was non-violently resisting arrest as “punks” and “cowards.”
Without any apparent irony, Denis Hamil recalls how, “I mourned with 8 million others when Officer Pete Figoski gave his life bravely to a punk’s bullet in the 75th Precinct two weeks before Christmas three years ago, leaving four shattered kids”...AND “...gazed into the hole in the city’s heart at Officer Dennis Guerra’s funeral as his widow and children watched his coffin carried from the requiem Mass in Rockaway after he perished trying to save lives in a Coney Island fire.”
Is that the standard Hamil wishes to employ; “dead cop = good/hero, while those who put their own safety first = bad/abusive”?
For THAT is very much the basic protocol of the NYPD and Police Departments everywhere – “Put the safety and the lives of our Officers FIRST...second and third.”
What happened to Eric Garner should never happen to anyone and it DOES bring into question many legitimate Civil Liberties issues.
WHY was Garner apparently continually targeted by Police over such a minor offense.
WHAT justified the initial NYPD stop over “selling unlicensed cigarettes,” given that he had just broken up a fight and seemingly was NOT engaged in selling contraband at the time? Granted that once he began resisting arrest (yes, even non-violently) Police procedures didn’t allow them to “back off,” but WHY the initial confrontation?
Virtually every witness attests that Eric Garner had just broken up a fight before being confronted by Police. So WHY such a large police response to such a non-violent crime and a suspect who, according to the available videos, was not acting aggressively with Police in any perceptible way?
These are issues that the objections to the broad “discretion” given to Officers under the recently eliminated “Stop & Frisk” policy were based upon.
However, it also goes to the heart of the basic theory that Bill Bratton (Mayor DeBlasio’s hand-picked Police Commissioner) has staked his entire police career and reputation on – that by vigorously prosecuting low-level offenders, many high-level offenders with outstanding warrants will be swept up and off the streets.
Without question, crime is the key distinction AND the primary trigger in the war between the productive mainstream and the “thuglife” cultures. To the former crime is not only chaotic and dysgenic (high-value people are most often victimized by very low-value individuals), but it’s also...and more importantly, “very bad for business”...however, to the latter, crime is both a protest against the seemingly often arbitrary rules of the established order, but their most effective, if not only way to “fight back.”
Street cops know this. They know they are in a very real war being waged by a small, but sizable culture within a culture, fed and encouraged by dozens of community activists and lawyers looking to profit off the mayhem.
Horrifically enough, it’s this warlike clash of cultures, along with the protocols of our Police Departments (NEVER back down from a criminal suspect) that triggers tragedies like what happened to Eric Garner.
It comes down, in part, to how vigorously the productive mainstream wants its streets policed?
To completely “lock crime down,” offers the ugly specter of more Eric Garners, while a less vigorous approach serves entirely the interests of the Lawrence Campbell’s of this world.
There’s really no good outcome UNTIL the entire “thuglife” culture is eradicated either through education or incarceration.