In a recent letter to the editor of my local newspaper, an elderly lady expressed her opinion about the death of Eric Garner. It an apparent attempt to defend the actions of the police in New York, she wrote that “when you break the law, you must expect consequences.” That statement taken alone is quite true. One must indeed expect consequences when he or she decides to break the law. No one is debating that. However, she was trying to imply that Garner’s death was merely a consequence of his decision to sell untaxed cigarettes and subsequently resist arrest for it. This is ludicrous.
Garner did not deserve to die for what he did. He was guilty of some misdemeanors that merited, at most, a year in jail. The consequences for his minor offenses should not have included death. What he got was much worse than what he deserved. There is no way to justify what happened to him. When he told those officers he could not breathe, they should have immediately let go of him. If that would have meant letting him get away, what difference would that have made in the long run? Which is worse, letting a man get away with a misdemeanor or causing his death? The former can be corrected later, but the latter can never be undone.