The Role of Race in the Garner Death

Abcarian: In that racist leaked recording, L.A. sees its true reflection — and it’s ugly

You probably know the story by now: In 2012, a man named Eric Garner died in police custody in Brooklyn while fighting for his life against a deadly chokehold, sparking an uproar that eventually got him released on medical grounds. The following year, in a leaked audio recording, two off-duty cops boasted for a brief moment about the way they were treating Garner — one of whom said he was “gonna kill the mother-fucker.” Garner was black; one of the cops involved was Latino. As his family and loved ones watched, the officers repeatedly referred to the unarmed black man as a “rat,” “lazy,” “motherfucker,” and “a crook” as they repeatedly pulled on his limbs, threatening him with imminent violence. The incident quickly spiraled into a broader scandal, and later that year, the two cops involved in the recording were fired by the New York Police Department.

What you might not know, though, is how the episode came to be recorded by a journalist and then subsequently leaked to the public. In 2012, Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, filed a lawsuit against the officers and the city of New York alleging violations of her son’s civil rights, as well as false arrest and abuse of authority. In 2015, the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the two officers and the city on behalf of Garner’s family, alleging violations of their civil rights as well as false arrest and obstruction of justice.

One of the most interesting aspects of the story of the Garner incident, however, pertains to the role race played in the incident that led to his death. For reasons that are still unclear, the officers involved in the incident — in particular Kevin Graham and Daniel Pantaleo — were white when the officers took part in it as well,

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