Three prominent Hispanic leaders, all with working knowledge of both policing and the courts, have gathered to watch and react to the Staten Island grand jury’s decision to not indict officer Daniel Pantaleo.
The three lawyers come at the case from different perspectives, but all reach the same conclusion: the death of Eric Garner was neither just, nor justified.
Nelson Diaz is the president of the Republican Party of Miami, but to him this isn’t a question of politics.
“This isn’t a black and white issue. It isn’t a Democrat and Republican issue. It’s about wrong versus right. I support our police, but it is wrong to watch that video and not come away feeling like they overreacted,” says Diaz.
You can’t expect prosecutors who work with police and often times even socialize with them to not be compromised when bringing evidence against them before a grand jury.
“It seems just barbarous to arrest someone in this form for selling a loose cigarette,” Diaz concludes.
Diaz’s concerns highlight the differences between the Eric Garner case and the case in Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown was seen robbing a store and threatening the clerk who questioned him just before his confrontation with officer Darren Wilson. On videotape, Brown appeared aggressive, combative and abusive.
However, the videotape that captures Eric Garner before his death depicts a man who’s not aggressive, combative nor abusive.
“He seemed genuinely frustrated to the point where when he asks ‘why you always hassling me’ I tend to believe him," suggests prominent immigration attorney Joseph Lackey.
All the experts agree after watching the videotape that it’s wrong to violate police regulations by using a chokehold on a suspect — that it is wrong to target a suspect for simply selling a cigarette and it’s wrong to ignore the plea of a man who is telling you repeatedly that he ‘can’t breath.’
Yet, somehow the Staten Island grand jury ruled it wasn’t wrong, implying that the officers acted correctly and within the law. How can that be when just about anyone who watches the tape comes to a different conclusion regardless of their race or their politics?
That answer, says former Miami Beach Vice Mayor and attorney Michael Gongora, has to do with the grand jury itself. He cites the comparison of the military where outside and independent panels are brought in to investigate violations of the military codes.
“If we bring in an independent panel to investigate police officers, the public will come away with a much more certainty that a full, honest and robust investigation has occurred. You can’t expect prosecutors who work with police and often times even socialize with them to not be compromised when bringing evidence against them before a grand jury,” says Gongora.
“These guys work together,” says Lackey. “It doesn’t make sense to have the same prosecutors who work with these cops investigating them. They’re friends and colleagues. It’s like being asked to investigate one of your co-workers.
The justice system, like everything else, occasionally needs tweaking. Lackey is convinced it’s about how we use grand juries to investigate police. Gongora says the use of body cameras on police, which he helped implement on Miami Beach, will change the game. And Diaz suggests we need to look at how our police academies are training police recruits.
“How does something escalate to that degree over a cigarette?” Diaz asks.
Do we need to better train these officers to handle these types of conflicts without resorting to questionable or even lethal tactics? Do we need to use body cameras to always have a better idea of what happened? Do we need to find a way to make the investigation of police officers more transparent?
The answer, it seems, is right there on the videotape.