I Can’t Breathe | A Review

This is an entry in a series that may or may not be completely selfish. I’ve gone back and forth over the years on how best to describe my ongoing ideological journey, or truly if it’s worth describing to you, the reader, in the first place. At the same time I have a tendency to grow weary of debates raging on Facebook and Twitter rather quickly.

And so what I’m offering (perhaps only to myself) is a brief chronicle of books I’ve been reading, enjoying, arguing with and adoring. Of course, I agree with precisely nobody on every issue, so if this were a Twitter account I’d say something like, “An entry does not constitute an endorsement.” That being said, life is just too short to read bad books and you can be sure that if I feel like I’m wasting my time reading it there’s a small chance I’ll write about it…mainly because I am selfish.

Thanks for indulging. Feel free to reach out with push-back, questions, etc.

I Can't Breathe Matt Taibbi
Gist
Journalist Matt Taibbi spent two years interviewing dozens of witnesses, prosecutors and police regarding the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York City July 17th 2014. For many, Garner, a black man, has become little more than a symbol, famously pleading for his life with the words “I can’t breathe”, while officer Daniel Panteleo, a white man, killed him via an illegal choke-hold. Taibbi does the hard work of humanizing Garner and putting systemic realities of crime, racism and police brutality into context.

What Drew Me
The parallels of Eric Garner’s story and the recent events – epitomized in yet another viral video of a black man being murdered on the street by a white officer for alleged petty theft – once again have put systemic inequality and police violence front and center. Having spent a good deal of time in the midst of communities that bear some similarities, I was especially drawn in by the honest, complex and tragicomic portrayal of Garner and those left behind. It is far too easy to shift focus away from the complex – both dignified and flawed – individual victims of systemic oppression and pivot back to our previously-held points of view. The reader here is not only immersed in the details of the case but, more importantly, is treated to all the humanity and complexities of the late Eric Garner.

Takeaways
The reckoning demanded is that the police often serve as the ones tasked with the dirty work of politicians of all stripes, conservative and liberal alike. “Broken windows” policies (or the slightly re-worked “community policing”) create repeated negative interactions between police and the people living on the margins of our society. Occasionally this results in an Eric Garner-level murder. Routinely, this results in illegal (or legally suspect) stops, searches and seizures of property. The events chronicled here serve as an implicit warning against adjustments and reforms to our current policing structures.

The fact is that, by refusing to prioritizing social programs like health care, education and housing we have left it to the police to move people like Eric Garner out of our sight by whatever means necessary.

Best Quote
“Half a century after the civil rights movement, white Americans do not want to know this man. They don’t want him walking into their neighborhoods. They want him moved off the corner. Even white liberals seem to, deep down inside, if the policies they advocate and the individual choices they make are any indication.

“The police are blamed for these deaths, and often rightly so, but the highly confrontational, physically threatening strategies cops such as Daniel Panteleo employ draw their power from the tacit approval of upscale white voters. Whether they admit it or not, many voters would rather that Eric Garner be dead and removed from view somewhere than living and eating Cheetos on the stoop next door.”

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