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Opening Arguments

The camera didn't help

Today's editorial speaks in favor of the push for police body cameras in the wake of the Ferguson, Mo., cop-kills-unarmed-teenager incident. This is the penultimate paragraph:

Certainly this won’t solve everything. Some police will learn to game the cameras — turning them on and off precisely when they do or do not want something to be on the record. In the beginning, there will be fumbles and miscues. There will be disputes concerning citizens’ right to privacy.

Today we need to add to that: Even when a video can catches a cop going too far, a grand jury might still decline to indict. Just about everybody, from all across the political spectrum, has the same reaction when they watch the cop continue to choke Earl Garner despite his repeated "I can't breathe" protestations: What in the world was the grand jury thinking? If there was ever a need for a release of all the grand jury considered, this is it.

The most infuriating thing about Garner's death is what his "crime" was -- selling "loosies" (or "looseys" -- I've seen it both ways) -- individual cigarettes. This is against the law supposedly for health reasons (like we won't know cigs are unhealthy if we don't see the warning label), but it's really about the state wanting its tax money.

Ther'e a ton of stuff being written about this. This is a pretty good summation:

UNLIKE FERGUSON, THIS ONE SEEMED PRETTY CLEAR-CUT TO ME: No Indictment in Videotaped NYPD Chokehold Death. A few observations:

(1) His initial crime: Selling “looseys” — individual cigarettes — in violation of NYC tax law. When you pass a law, however trivial, you are providing an opportunity for police to use lethal force. That’s why I favor fewer laws, not more.

(2) I saw someone on Twitter saying that if you expect a Staten Island grand jury to indict a cop, then you don’t know Staten Island. That may be the case, but it shouldn’t be. If police can’t be accountable for their use of force, then we shouldn’t have police. Fire ‘em all and privatize. We’re not supposed to have titles of nobility in this country.

(3) Listening to NPR on the way back from the UT Studio — I taped a segment on this for The Independents on Fox Business tonight — they kept stressing that it was a WHITE officer who had killed a BLACK MAN. You could pretty much hear the capitals in their voices. They’d never stress race that way in other circumstances. And it’s not clear that excessive force by police is especially a racial problem. In Alabama, we had the shooting of a unarmed white 18-year old by a black cop; in Utah, we had the Dillan Taylor shooting, also unarmed, also not prosecuted. Racializing the issue makes it more divisive and less likely to be addressed.

But here's more on the "loosies" angle:

Selling and buying loosies is about avoiding taxes. Garner was being a fringe entrepreneur.

And let's not forget the libertarian lesson here: Government is forece, and more government equals more force:

What did the facts show in the Staten Island case? They don’t show deliberate murder. The video of the police arrest of Eric Garner shows no evidence of malice or specific intent to harm Garner. Rather, it shows a callousness toward his obvious physical distress when the confrontation goes wrong. The killing is less malicious than officious


Larry Morris
Thu, 12/04/2014 - 10:25pm

I do have a silly question about this.  They said the violation was about tax revenue for the single cigarettes.  How were they bought in the first place ?  If he was buying packs of cigarettes and re-selling them as loosies , that should not have been a tax issue, the tax was collected when they were purchased in the first place ...

Leo Morris
Fri, 12/05/2014 - 8:34am

It's the people who buy the loosies who are cheating the tax man, buying their smokes on the street instead of in a tax-collecting store.

Larry Morris
Fri, 12/12/2014 - 2:16pm

So, no matter how many times a cigarette is sold, it's taxed.  Good job if you can get it ...