Helena Gudell’s Wonderland: Excessive Force

All around Facebook everyone has been posting for the past two weeks or so about the death of Eric Garner. If you don’t know what I am talking about I am referring to the death of the man in NY on Staten Island who died while being arrested by police. 

Earlier this year I posted an article about the police taking their power to the extreme and killing people in the middle of arresting them. This is nothing new. It seems as social media and smartphones make a rise in our everyday lives, more and more videos come to the surface of police using excessive force to detain people. As more proof of these claims make their way across Twitter and Facebook, more police are being held accountable. I am sure with this article tho, I will upset both sides of the fence. 

The subject of Eric Garner became a heated debate here at my house when the video first started making its rounds on Facebook. I saw the video and chose not to share it. There are a few reasons why. The main reason is I don’t share things like that unless I can verify the authenticity of the video. I was not questioning whether or not the video was legit but I didn’t know the back story and there wasn’t any information available online about it yet when I saw the video… so I didn’t share it. In the coming days it had even made its way on the local news here in Florida. It was at that point I started discussing things with those around me. And of course there’s always differing views when discussing something so controversial. I will spare you the details of the argument and give you my point of view.

First I want to say thank you to those who are in Law Enforcement. This is a career I wanted to be in for many years. I have nothing but respect for those who put their lives on the line daily especially in the neighborhoods where their presence isn’t welcomed and can be hostile. With that being said I also want to say that I feel some abuse the power that comes with the badge. They enter certain neighborhoods or approach certain people with a chip on their shoulder. Not everyone who lives in a bad neighborhood is a drug dealer or a gang banger. Some have to live in bad areas because of their circumstances and police approach them with hostility just because of where they live. I understand the old saying “you are the company you keep” but with the economy being what it is, sometimes people are victim of circumstance and not choice.

Now on to our rights and responsibilities as citizens. You do have the right to question the officer as to why they want to detain you. You do not have the right to being hostile. No matter how many times the cops have come to you and harassed you for the same thing. If you’re doing nothing wrong then calmly sort the things out so everyone can go home. Most of the excessive force complaints against police could be avoided if people didn’t get hostile. In very few videos have I seen a cop just walk up to someone and decide to start beating them. I say it that way because there have been videos out there where it has happened. Now let me say this… hostility does NOT give the officer the right to be excessive and end up killing someone. Sometimes dealing with someone you don’t know their health history and you don’t know what will happen when you are in an altercation with them. If I were to get arrested and decided to resist arrest chances are I would very likely die. I have a condition that causes my heart to beat at the rate of someone who is exercising when I am just sitting here watching TV. So if I were to actually be in a scuffle where my heart rate would increase even more I would probably die. This issue also causes my blood pressure to drop really low. Now looking at me you wouldn’t guess that there was anything wrong with me. But anything they did to try to subdue me while resisting arrest would likely result in me dying. These are the things facing officers every day when they enter the field.

I don’t think that its right when anyone dies in the custody of police. As onlookers its easy for us to say this or that should have been done differently. First and foremost the officer shouldn’t have used the choke hold. That has been outlawed as police practice in NY for a while now and he knew better. I do agree that in that point he used excessive and illegal force to take down Eric Garner. I also believe that when he was pretty much in cuffs and said he couldn’t breathe they should have given some consideration to that. Now I know that in the eyes of police they couldn’t let up until he was in cuffs because then he has the ability to escape or hurt an officer.

Do I believe that Eric Garner deserved to die? No I don’t. I believe that excessive force was used and the homicide charges facing the officer are valid. He was aware that choke holds are illegal use of force and chose to use one the day he took Eric Garner down to the ground. Do I think that Eric Garner is innocent of taking what could have been a simple detaining and turned it into something more than it should have been? Yes I do. We don’t know if he was legitimately being harassed by police that day. It is very possible that they were always bugging him for one reason or another. I will give that much to someone who isn’t here to speak for himself. That day he could have been tired of being civil with the cops that were there to harass him yet another day. And unfortunately that choice cost him his life. In the video the officer could not point out the person that Eric Garner supposedly sold cigarettes to, which leads me to believe that there was a little more to the harassment story than what the police are leading us to believe. However the videos that have come to light show nothing of the fight that Eric was supposed to have just broken up which caused police to come. So maybe as in every story there is a little bit of truth to both sides. 

The officers had no way of knowing that day that Eric was asthmatic. I am not saying that is an excuse but it demonstrates just how fast something simple can escalate to something more. Eric could have died that day whether a choke hold was inflicted or not. He was asthmatic and it was a hot summer day and he was getting worked up and had resisted arrest. Even if they didn’t use a choke hold that day, simply being wrestled to the ground by the police while resisting arrest could have caused an asthmatic attack that might have ended his life.

I am not sticking up for the police in this article. As I said earlier, I think the homicide charges are sufficient. The officer did not intend to kill anyone when he set out to arrest Eric Garner that day but he did die in his custody by his wrongdoing. They deserve to know that they can not live above the law just because they carry a badge. They need to know that excessive force is not ok and will not be tolerated.

As a citizen you have to respect the law. If you don’t like what is going on in your city then you need to make sure you elect the people who are going to change it. If you don’t like the way police treat people in your neighborhood, then join the force and change it. Contact those in office, contact your representatives and let them know what is going on. It is not snitching. It is taking back your neighborhood. But in the same token, when you’re approached by an officer, you have to remember they are a member of law enforcement. They took an oath to protect the people and they have a right to detain you with probable cause. You do NOT have the right to resist arrest. If you choose to then they have a right to use force to detain you. Eric Garner attempted to resist arrest and therefore they used force to detain him. When an officer is going to arrest you whatever the charges may be, even if you don’t agree with them you can not resist. You can verbally tell them that you think there is a misunderstanding and you think that they’re wrong but you can not resist.

You know that police typically enter poor or black or hispanic neighborhoods with a prejudice that there is going to be an issue. They anticipate having to use force to arrest someone. They anticipate having to chase someone down from trying to evade them. And if they have that anticipation going into the situation they are going to be more prone to being excessive. They are going to be short fused and less likely to discuss something with someone. If you are loud and aggressive in your tone with the police who are already on their toes waiting for something to happen, things will escalate very quickly. This is why we need to be more aware of our own actions and what we’re doing. We can avoid these incidents if we do things right and get the cops off the street who are doing the wrong things. 


Got something you want me to write about? Email it to me at wonderlandbce@gmail.com 

Follow me on Twitter @WonderlandBCE


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