Liberals and Conservatives on Common Ground in Outrage Over Grand Jury’s Decision in Eric Garner’s Death

A crowd in Foley Square in Lower Manhattan swelled to at least 2,000 by 7 p.m. on Thursday. (Credit: Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times)
A crowd in Foley Square in Lower Manhattan swelled to at least 2,000 by 7 p.m. on Thursday. (Credit: Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times)

Controversial court rulings are often followed by protests. Or confrontation. Or social unrest. This week’s decision by a grand jury not to indict a New York City police officer in the death of a Staten Island man added an unexpected entry to the list: rare bipartisan consensus.

Opinions on a grand jury’s decision not to bring charges against a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager were largely split along party lines. Republicans generally approved the decision, while many Democrats did not.

The political reaction to a New York grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner, who died after the officer put him in a choke hold, has resulted in a rare consensus, with both conservatives and liberals reacting with outrage to the decision.

“There is no excuse that I can think of for choking a man to death for selling illegal cigarettes,” wrote Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. “This is someone being choked to death. We have it on video with the man pleading for his life. There is no excuse for that I can even contemplate or imagine right now.”

Garner, who died July 17, was being arrested for allegedly selling loose cigarettes on Staten Island. An officer, Daniel Pantaleo, used a chokehold to bring Garner down. His actions were caught on a video, with Garner repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe.” He later died, and a medical examiner determined the chokehold and compression to Garner’s chest had caused his death, which was ruled a homicide. Pantaleo told the grand jury that he had used a wrestling move and did not meant to cause Garner harm. The Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into Garner’s death.

So why has this case sparked outrage among some conservatives?

First, there’s the video evidence — the dramatic footage showing Garner telling police that he cannot breathe.

“From looking at the video, the grand jury’s decision here is totally incomprehensible,” conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer said on FOX News Monday.

Krauthammer also pointed to another source of conservative dissatisfaction with the case. “[Garner] was selling loose cigarettes, which is in and of itself almost absurd that somebody has to die over that.”

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