Yesterday (Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014), my husband and I marched with a group of organizations including the Long Island Civic Engagement Table to protest the nonindictment of New York City Office Daniel Pantaleo in the Eric Garner case. Eric Garner was held in a chokehold by Officer Pantaleo during an arrest for selling loose untaxed cigarettes in a Staten Island park. Garner cried out 11 times that he could not breathe, but only after that did Pantaleo and a companion officer call the EMTs. The efforts to revive Garner were unsuccessful because his heart failed in response to the oxygen deprivation from the chokehold. The coroner's office ruled the death a homicide -- not necessarily a crime, but a death caused by human action, in this case by the extended chokehold.
Use of a chokehold has been illegal for New York City police officers since 1994.
On Wednesday, Dec. 3, a New York grand jury decided not to indict Officer Pantaleo for a crime. Protests have been carried out daily in New York City; my husband and I joined yesterday's Suffolk County protest.
The protest was more generally in commemoration of Michael Brown, and unarmed black 18-year-old shot dead by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014, and other unarmed people, especially black people, killed by gun fire by white policemen in America.
Suffolk County policemen and policewomen maintained a strong, respectful presence during the march up Amityville's main north-south street, Albany Avenue. At the intersection of Albany with Sunrise Highway, the police had blocked off traffic from all four directions. We protesters lay down for four and a half minutes in complete silence, to commemorate the four and a half hours when Michael Brown's body lay in the August sunlight in Ferguson..
Suffolk County's police force is integrated with all races and with both male and female officers. Obviously, the march could not have taken place without their cooperation and protection.
Police work is dangerous. Officers are killed daily by criminals of every color. To fail to appreciate the dangers of police work, or our need for police, would be foolish. Also, some incidents that appear to have a racial motivation may have been cases where race was completely incidental. Nonetheless, when the same unwanted result keeps emerging over and over again -- unarmed black person, most likely a young male, shot dead by a white police officer -- then we have to enact a reform of the procedure.
We need to enact reform of a lot of procedures and situations based on race in the United States. Having made the progress that we have is good and can't be ignored or demeaned. But making progress isn't enough. We must keep an open and respectful national dialogue active, and we have to demand real change, not just some progress.