04 December 2014

Eric Garner's Killer Not Indicted; Why I Am Upset But Not Surprised

As you've probably heard by now, a grand jury in Staten Island decided not indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner.

Almost anyone who's seen the video of the incident can't understand how the jury came to such a conclusion.  If you know anything about Staten Island, it's the most suburban of New York City's boroughs. Among the island's 472,621 residents (out of 8.406 million in all of New York City) are many NYPD officers. Even if none were uniformed men or women, there was probably more sympathy for the police in that jury than there would be in a group of jurors in, say, the Bronx.  

Perhaps not surprisingly, most of the middle-class and affluent white residents, whether or not they are members of the NYPD, come into little or no contact with the island's black and Hispanic residents, almost all of whom live in a couple of neighborhoods between the Bayonne Bridge and the former Naval Station in Stapleton.  Standards of political correctness seem to fall precipitously as one disembarks from the Ferry in St. George or descends from the arc of the Bayonne, Verrazano or Goethals Bridge. 

To put it bluntly, white residents do not see non-whites as human being; they see people of color as a plague that, if unchecked, will spread across their island.  The people of color, penned up in the projects, see police officers as members of an occupying army employed, commanded--and, to a large degree, staffed by whites, and therefore do not trust them.

Given my own experience with the police, I can understand that distrust very, very well.  Having been harassed and bullied by cops on the street and in a precinct house (the latter when I went to report the abuse I was experiencing from Dominick), I know that the men (and, sadly, women) in uniform will not do anything to ensure my safety, let alone my rights.  I know that none would hesitate to use force against me, whether or not I violated any laws, never mind whether I'm threat to anyone's safety.  

In brief, I cannot see the police as part of a system that defends or ensures justice--at least not for me.  They are little more than the bodyguards of the wealthy and powerful, the bouncers hired to push me out of sight whether or not I was intruding or in anyone's way.  In such a system, I and other trans people are always in danger, whether or not we "pass".  Being in danger destroys your ability to trust, especially those who are entrusted with force that can be turned against you for no reason.

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