Viewpoint: Why Eric Garner was blamed for dying

Eric Garner pictured in a family photo
Eric Garner and his family

Viewpoint: Why Eric Garner was blamed for dying

By Stacey Patton and David Leonard

8 December 2014

In the wake of several high-profile cases involving black Americans killed after encounters with the police, writers Stacey Patton and David J Leonard examine why blame is often shifted to the deceased.

Last week a Staten Island grand jury concluded that no crime was committed when an NYPD officer choked 43-year-old Eric Garner to death in broad daylight. Never mind what we all have seen on the video recording; his pleas, and his pronouncement, “I can’t breathe.”

So what if the medical examiner ruled it a homicide? An unfortunate tragedy for sure, but not a crime.

In fact, in the eyes of many, it was Garner’s own fault.

“You had a 350lb (158.8kg) person who was resisting arrest. The police were trying to bring him down as quickly as possible,” New York Representative Peter King told the press. “If he had not had asthma and a heart condition and was so obese, almost definitely he would not have died.”

This sort of logic sees Garner’s choices as the reasons for his death. Everything is about what he did. He had a petty criminal record with dozens of arrests, he (allegedly) sold untaxed cigarettes, he resisted arrest and disrespected the officers by not complying.

According to Bob McManus, a columnist for The New York Post, both Eric Garner and Michael Brown, the teenager shot dead by a police officer in Ferguson Missouri, “had much in common, not the least of which was this: On the last day of their lives, they made bad decisions. Especially bad decisions. Each broke the law – petty offenses, to be sure, but sufficient to attract the attention of the police. And then – tragically, stupidly, fatally, inexplicably – each fought the law.”

If only we turned our attention on those who are responsible. Had Officer Daniel Pantaleo not choked Eric Garner, the father and husband would be alive today.

Had Officer Pantaleo listened to his pleas, Garner would be alive today.

Had the other four officers interceded, Garner would be alive today.

There is plenty of blame to go around. The NYPD’s embrace of stop-and-frisk policies rooted in the “broken windows” method of policing is a co-conspirator worthy of public scrutiny and outrage.

Yet, we focus on Eric Garner’s choices.

Such victim-blaming is central to white supremacy.

Emmett Till should not have whistled at a white woman.

Amadou Diallo should not have reached for his wallet.

Trayvon Martin should not have been wearing a hoodie.

Jonathan Ferrell should not have run toward the police after getting into a car accident.

Renisha McBride should not have been drinking or knocked on a stranger’s door for help in the middle of the night.

Jordan Davis should not have been playing loud rap music.

Michael Brown should not have stolen cigarillos or allegedly assaulted a cop.

The irony is these statements are made in a society where white men brazenly walk around with rifles and machine guns, citing their constitutional right to do so when confronted by the police.

Look at the twitter campaign “#CrimingWhileWhite” to bear witness to all the white law-breakers who lived to brag about the tale.

Just think about the epidemic of white men who walk into public spaces, open fire and still walk away with their lives. In those cases, we are told we must understand “why” and change laws or mental health system to make sure it never happens again.

Continue reading at BBC News

Hey, White College Kids: Can the Ferguson Police Get Some of That Kony 2012 Outrage?

Posted: Aug. 22 2014 2:56 PM
Originally Published at The Root


A woman gestures during a peaceful protest Aug. 19, 2014, along a street in Ferguson, Mo., regarding the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown.MICHAEL B. THOMAS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Remember #Kony2012? Of course you do. The social media campaign by Invisible Children against the war criminal leader of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army is impossible to forget because of the way so many Americans—including many white Americans—came together and amplified the cause in the name of justice and human rights.

Invisible Children’s video was viewed 100 million times within six days. In a showing bigger even than the one for the ongoing “ice bucket challenge” for Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, 3.7 million people committed to joining the Kony 2012 struggle. While ultimately unsuccessful in its stated goals of “ending war,” or “stopping the LRA and their leader,” #Kony2012 was effective in galvanizing deep support from white youth throughout the nation.

So, why not #FergusonPD2014?

In other words, why aren’t the same people who called out Joseph Kony demanding accountability from the Ferguson Police Department for its killing of Michael Brown when he was unarmed, and for its violation of peaceful protesters’ constitutional rights to assemble? Yes, it’s true that people of all backgrounds, including some young white activists, are actively involved in the protests in Ferguson. But why aren’t white college students latching on to this and revealing the same overwhelming “commitment” they did to the Kony “cause”?

As a college professor, I remember clearly that during the #Kony2012 campaign, they wanted the world to know that they were outraged by the atrocities going on in Uganda, or at least the atrocities said to be going on at some point in recent history. Why not a similar response to the atrocities going on outside St. Louis?

Because, sadly, this American tragedy doesn’t seem to have the right ingredients.

Besides using social media wisely, Invisible Children deployed a narrative of good versus evil and created enthusiasm around the power of young people in stopping a man intent on turning young men into soldiers and young women into sex slaves. With a click of a button that led the video to be shared on social media, a donation, or putting on some Kony apparel, one could seemingly purchase penance for past inaction and buy peace.

Second, the video and the campaign played upon the long-standing concept of the “white man’s burden” —the idea that white America has a responsibility and a duty to help oppressed elsewhere.

Third, the primary platform of the campaign limited the chance of cross-racial challenges. Facebook, marked by its insular communities, segregation and siloed realities, was the central engine for Kony 2012. This, and the nascent status of “black Twitter,” created conditions under which the “white savior” mentality thrived. While white Americans who participated in Kony 2012 were purchasing a tool kit or contributing to “justice” with their clicks and dollars, they didn’t have to inconvenience or challenge their privilege or identity.

Movements to address injustice when the victims are African American don’t have the same formula. So it’s no wonder that since 2012, there has not been a #Trayvon2013, a movement for #Renisha2013 or a #Ferguson2014. It’s no wonder there have been no viral videos on #Every28HoursABlackManIsKilled, or mainstream efforts to galvanize national attention for Eric Garner or Marissa Alexander or countless others.

Continue reading at The Root

Michael Bloomberg and the Benevolent White Daddy Syndrome | NewBlackMan (in Exile)


by David J. Leonard

Hypocrisy is nothing new for America’s politicians. It is one of the few postures that remains bipartisan.

This is certainly evident as Michael Bloomberg pushes forward his assault on big sodas alongside his assault on constitutional rights and human dignity with his harmful stop and frisk policy. “For someone who wants to make sure people don’t smoke, waste energy, shoot each other with military-style firearms, or eat a bagel that’s way too big, you don’t express similar urgency when it comes to Black and Latino youth being violated on the streets of New York City,” writes Michael Arceneaux.

Stop and Frisk “has done absolutely nothing to make the city’s streets safer, and instead, fuels the fires of the already tense relationship between people of color and the police? Why focus on all off that when you can walk around telling people what not to eat and drink? Meanwhile, the heads of minority youth are buried into the concrete,” Acreneaux continues.

When defending big soda bans or cigarette concealment Bloomberg consistently notes health and safety, yet as Arceneaux notes, where is the concern for health, safety, dignity, life, and humanity with stop and frisk. Hypocrisy indeed.

Yet, on another level the soda ban and stop and frisk policy operate through the same racist ideologies: white paternalism. In both instances, Bloomberg and others claim discipline and punishment as necessary for the sake of safety, order, and protecting. They both are thought to be “preventative;” they are considered as policies thought to protect the law-abiding from poor choices, from dangerous values, and harmful things. They are considered interventions for bodies of color who obviously need to be controlled by the state.

Bloomberg defends his march on soda by invoking the kids, “I’ve got to defend my children, and yours, and do what’s right to save lives…Obesity kills. There’s no question—it kills…We believe that the judge’s decision was clearly in error, and we believe we will win on appeal.”

Given soda industries targeting of black and Latino youth, and the lack of concern for the turnstile refills at America’s finest restaurants, Bloomberg’s crusade against cola is wrapped up in the logics of race and class. You have to look no further than the exemption of coffee drinks; a massive mocha offers a whopping 360 calories, 19 g of fat, and more than a little bit of sugar. A blended version nets almost 500 calories, yet because it has milk, not to worry, all is supposedly good. The hipsters of Williamsburg have little to worry about as Bloomsberg’s Pepsi police are on the case at 7-11, making sure that sugar + coffee + milk remains the breakfast of (Wall-Street) champions.

Bloomsberg’s class and race-based logic of paternalism and protection, of saving black and brown youth from purported pathologies and dangers isn’t reserved for the soda fountain but also guides his policing policy.

“We are not going to walk away from a strategy that we know saves lives,” noted Mayor Bloomberg. He went on to say, “At the same time, we owe it to New Yorkers to ensure that stops are properly conducted and carried out in a respectful way.”

Scoffing at suggestions that stops should mirror population numbers in the city, he added, “If we stopped people based on census numbers, we would stop many fewer criminals, recover many fewer weapons and allow many more violent crimes to take place. We will not do that. We will not bury our heads in the sand.”

Continue reading at Michael Bloomberg and the Benevolent White Daddy Syndrome | NewBlackMan (in Exile).

The NFL and America’s Drinking Problem | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

The NFL and America’s Drinking Problem

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

A month ago Jerry Brown Jr. lost his life. Like all too many people, each and every day, his death was the result of drunk driving. According to police reports, Brown was a passenger in the car of his Dallas Cowboys’ teammate and college roommate, Josh Brent. Traveling at what appeared to be a high speed on an interstate highway, Brent’s car struck the “outside curb, causing the vehicle to flip at least one time before coming to rest in the middle of the service road.” In just an instant one man’s life was lost and his best friend’s life would be forever changed. “Officers at the scene believed alcohol was a contributing factor in the crash,” noted John Argumaniz, an Irving police spokesman. “Based on the results and the officer’s observations and conversations with Price-Brent, he was arrested for driving while intoxicated.” This is tragic on so many levels, but that is not the emergent story.

In wake of this tragic death and Brent’s arrest, a narrative emerged that sought to construct a bridge between football and drunk driving. The Memphis Business Journal parroted widely cited statistics in its piece about the “NFL’s Drinking Problem” to highlight the large problem that had tragic consequences:

In the wake of the alcohol-related death of Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jerry Brown over the weekend, the NFL may have some serious soul-searching to do.

USA TODAY reports 28 percent of the 624 player arrests since 2000 occurred because of a suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The single-vehicle accident in which Brown was killed marked the third time since 1998 an NFL player killed another person due to suspected intoxicated driving, the paper reported.

Barron H. Lerner, with “Why Can’t the NFL Stop Its Players From Driving Drunk?” offered a similar song, noting statistics about NFL players and arrests (yet of course failing to offer notation that this same study revealed that NFL players were less likely to engaged in this practice than their non-playing peers). He also recycled the longstanding argument that NFL players are more likely to engaged in such behavior because of the lack of moral and legal consequences:

It is reasonable to speculate that these efforts have lowered the rates of drunk driving among NFL players and, for that matter, all professional athletes. But there is still a culture of drinking and driving among NFL players. As Dan Wetzel reported on Yahoo, drunk driving is the league’s biggest legal issue. A study by the San Diego Union-Tribune found that 112 of the 385 NFL player arrests between 2000 and 2008 involved drunk driving. In 2009, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donté Stallworth, who had been drinking at a hotel bar in Florida, struck and killed a pedestrian. The problem is that there are limits to moral and legal deterrents.

Similarly, Brian Miller called for greater surveillance and punishment to address the NFL’s criminal problem:

From drugs, murder, DUI, assault and battery, the NFL needs to stand up in front and lead. They need to be tougher and frankly, Roger Goodell is a pretty tough commissioner. However, it’s time that he starts landing major punches in his battle to clean up the image of the NFL. In order to do that, he will need more than simple cooperation from the (players’ union). This is not an NFL issue; it’s a players issue.

The narrative that imagines the NFL as a league of irresponsible drunks and criminally-minded threats to public safety dominants the landscape.

Continue reading at The NFL and America’s Drinking Problem | NewBlackMan (in Exile).

The Inked Academic Body – The Conversation – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Paraphrased “Henry V” as tattoo; photo by beau-foto


The Inked Academic Body

October 25, 2012, 1:26 pm

By David J. Leonard


Look around: As Mary Kosut, an associate professor at Purchase College, has written, “America has become a tattooed nation.” Indeed, our shared ink transcends race, class, gender, sexuality, political affiliation, ideology, and even our sports loyalties. According to a 2012 Harris Poll, 20 percent of Americans have ink; the visibility in today’s world is startling. In kids’ culture—tattooed Barbie—and popular/sports culture and politics, tattoos are almost as mainstream as the iPhone or apple pie.

The ubiquity of ink has made me wonder about prevalence of tattoos among college faculty. Given the stereotypes of tweed jackets and bookworm glasses, and those of tatted bikers and inked basketball players, how much does the tattooed professor violate social expectations?

There is no question that professors are frequently tatted. Within my own department, at least six of us, out of 14 faculty, have ink. (Before we merged with another department, six out of eight had tattoos.) While at a certain level, tattoos represent novelty for us, there is more. As scholars within the field of ethnic studies, we are always the “others.” That is especially true for my colleagues of color, and those GLBT scholars within ethnic studies and the academy at large.

The inked body, already questioned, suspect, even undesirable, represents an effort to reassert power and control. My work is interdisciplinary and often crosses the border of race, religion, and culture. A couple of years back, while attending a Jewish-studies conference, I was questioned about tattoos, reminded over and over again that ink and Jewishness are incompatible. For many, my tatted body made me an outsider. With each comment, I rolled up my sleeves to reveal more of my tatted arms, trying hard to reassert myself.

Although tattoos operate as ritual, as a method of memorializing significant life moments or articulating group membership, they are at their core about reasserting control over one’s body, which—because of the demands of work, consumer culture, and unattainable beauty standards—is increasingly illusive. As we are adorned with logos, assailed by images of how to look and dress, how to style one’s hair, and subjected to messages about what is proper, control over our bodies is a dream continuously deferred. Tattoos challenge that dehumanizing reality.

Continue reading The Inked Academic Body – The Conversation – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The Criminalization of Mental Illness in Black America | Urban Cusp

The Criminalization of Mental Illness in Black America

By David J. Leonard

It was a normal night in 2009 at Delonte West’s house. Tired from a long day, West retreated to his room to get some rest. As usual, he took a dose of Seroquel, medication he uses for his bipolar disorder. “Sadness is a normal human emotion,” explains West. “And there’s a mechanism that kicks in and lets you know it’s time to stop being sad. With bipolar, that mechanism is out, so you don’t even know when you’re sad.” Despite certain side effects, Seroquel helps to regulate these mechanisms.

Shortly after falling asleep, West was awoken and told that his friends were downstairs messing around with some guns in the house. Despite feeling the effects of the medication, West decided that the best course of action was to remove the guns from his home, transporting them to a house nearby. He described the situation to Slam Magazine in the following way:

A few of my cats had found some stuff in the studio and they were living the whole gangsta life thing- guns in the air and this and that. And I said, ‘Oh my God. What the fu*k are y’all doin’ in here? Y’all got to go. Momma ain’t on that. Kids are running around upstairs. It’s time to go.’

Gassed up from the commotion, West decided it would be prudent for him to relocate the guns to an empty house he owned nearby. So, with his other vehicles blocked in by guests’ cars, and expecting it to be a short trip, he haphazardly loaded up his Can-Am and placed the weapons in a Velcro-type of bag – “not a desperado, hardcase, gun-shooting-out-the-side type case” -and set off.

Unfortunately, while responsibly moving the guns, he found himself unable to shake his groggy feeling. Realizing the terrible predicament he faced, he sought out a police officer, only to find himself under arrest and ultimately in jail. While clearly a result of his Bipolar Disorder and his need to medicate, West would be punished by the criminal justice system (1-year house arrest), by the media (in terms of ridicule and a narrative that consistently imagined him as criminal), and with a 10-game suspension from the NBA. Named as a member of The Bleacher Report’s “all thug team” and also a member of a list of players who “could double as gang members,” and often described as a “thug” and a “gangsta” in comment sections, Delonte West highlights the ways the criminality and mental health becomes within the black body.

His difficulties and troubles are rarely linked to his disease, instead positioned as yet another criminal baller. Moreover, even acknowledgment about his Bipolar Disorder provides little cover or context given the stigmas directed at black males. Knowledge of medical conditions, instead, are used as further evidence of his criminality and danger. “West wouldn’t be the first person to be picked on for having a mental health condition, and certainly not the first to be picked up for the same,” notes Sam Eifling. “But it’s worth noting that, despite harming precisely no one, West likely became another example of the criminalization of mental illness in America. Now he’s stigmatized as not just sick, but criminal.” Ain’t that a truth known all too well by a disproportionate number of African Americans.

Continue reading @ The Criminalization of Mental Illness in Black America | Urban Cusp.

Drug Culture on College Campuses and the Criminalization of Student Athletes | Urban Cusp

Drug Culture on College Campuses and the Criminalization of Student Athletes

By David J. Leonard

UC Columnist

In a world where the stigmas of drugs and the destructiveness of the war on drugs have been confined to the black community, particularly those segregated urban spaces, the recent announcement of the arrest of several students from Texas Christian University should cause pause. Following a 6-month investigation from the DEA, the police arrested 17 students, including 4 football players, selling a myriad of drugs – marijuana, cocaine, prescription drugs and ecstasy on and off campus. The inclusion of 4 football players resulted in widespread media coverage, few which made note that 3 of those arrested were white, an important fact given the media-produced stereotype about race, crime, and American athletes. Worse yet, the efforts to isolate the problem of drugs to student athletes, not only plays upon stereotypes about black athletes, even in instances such as this where only 1 person involved is African American, but once again exonerates whiteness from the discussion. In narrating the problem of drugs on college campuses through athletics, an identity difficult to disentangle from blackness within the white imagination, the media sensationalism perpetuates a racially-defined war on drugs.

Described as a “stain on the football program,” and “an especially embarrassing blow to the school because it included four members of the high-profile football team,” the media response focused on the arrest of the 4 student-athletes, simultaneously rendering the other students (at least 11) and non-students involved as insignificant to the larger story. Those from the football team became the story, the starting team, with the others involved reduced to peripheral bench players unworthy of media investigation or commentary. In “TCU Will Survive Shameful Day,” Jean-Jacques Taylor denounced the players as “shameful, embarrassing, stupid,” seemingly letting the other students involved, the school, and the coach off the hook. In fact, Taylor celebrates the coach for how he handled the situation even though according to the article, 80 players tested positive for drugs (other sources put this number between 5-16): “Perhaps he’s simply observed what’s happened at Ohio State and Penn State recently and decided the fallout from the cover-up is so much worse than the crime that it’s far better to come clean and deal with the consequences,” writes the reporter for ESPN Dallas. “Either way, Patterson should be applauded for having the gumption to reportedly order team-wide drug testing when a recruit told him that he was declining a scholarship offer because of the drug culture.” Like much of the media coverage, Taylor turns a 6-month investigation that netted the arrests of at least 17 people for narcotics distribution to the “drug culture” of the team.

He was not alone with a significant media emphasis on how the arrests were emblematic of an epidemic ravaging college athletes. Eric Olson, with “TCU Bust Sign of Increased Pot Problem,” sought to contextualize the arrests as evidence of a larger problem. Noting that 22.6% of student-athletes reported using marijuana once during the last 12 months, and how that number is up from 21.2% in 2005, Olson argues that these arrests are indicative of a larger problem for college sports. Yet, the “evidence” provided by this study is actually contradicted by the study itself, which argues that the slight increase in marijuana use reflects a societal shift rather than something specific to college athletics. Moreover, the study found that within the NCAA, marijuana use is least common amongst Division I student-athletes (16.9%), with Division II student-athletes (21.4%) and those from Division III having the highest level of usage with a number of 28.3%. In fact, while drug usage declined at the Division I level, those other two levels saw increases. Olson also references usage amongst student-athletes playing football and basketball, coincidentally those sports with the most visible number of African Americans, implying that the problem is acute within these sports. While basketball (22%) and football (26.7%) mirror widespread findings within all sports (the study doesn’t break the information down for each sport within each division), men’s lacrosse (48.5%), women’s lacrosse (30%) and women’s field hockey (35.7%) might as well get a feature article in High Times.

Conflating their arrests for alleged drug distribution with drug use amongst student-athletes, all while arguing the existence of a growing problem (up 1.5%), the efforts to construct this as a product of athletic culture and specifically an out-growth of football and basketball programs is telling.

The efforts to narrate a story specific to a college athletics, playing upon the sensationalism and particular stereotypes, has significant consequences. In isolating and confining the narrative to basketball courts and football stadium, the media representation continues the erasure of drug uses and criminal activity amongst college students. Most studies put drug use amongst college students at rates higher than general public, with almost 23% of college students meeting the clinical definition of alcohol or drug dependence.

Continue reading at Drug Culture on College Campuses and the Criminalization of Student Athletes | Urban Cusp.