Eric Garner’s distressing and unnecessary death should encourage every city, town, and hamlet that employs a solitary police officer to carefully reconsider the appropriate use of force in law enforcement activities. A society can only be free insomuch as it embraces an individual’s natural rights of life, liberty, and property, while simultaneously restraining the government’s use of force. Eric Garner died because police officers used an inappropriate level of force – a fact that should concern every thoughtful American.
It is unacceptable for police officers to initiate the use of physical force unless a physical confrontation is imminent, a suspect is attempting to flee, or an individual appears to be in the process of destroying evidence. In addition, any use of force must be tailored to the threat: it is wrong for an officer to shoot an unarmed fleeing suspect, and also unacceptable for officers to wrestle a tax evader to the ground after he refuses handcuffs.
It is impossible to know if the grand jury erred when it declined to indict officer Pantaleo. The prosecutor may have sought an unduly severe indictment (e.g. first or second degree murder), or maybe the grand jury simply couldn’t bring themselves to indite a police officer for involuntary manslaughter. Regardless of the reason, the justice system needs to be fine tuned; legislators must strengthen and clarify the laws that penalize police officers who use excessive force. Overly confrontational police officers and limelight oriented prosecutors must be cast aside: militarism and demagoguery will only breed distrust for law enforcement and contempt for justice.