As a boomer-kid during the Fifties and Sixties I spent all day every day on the street in Brooklyn. There were countless times when I witnessed NYPD officers making arrests. Later, after two summers of taxi driving followed by several years as a territorial salesman in the greater New York area, I had seen plenty of collars-in-progress.
To my recollection, arresting officers' pistols were un-holstered at some point during every arrest. Often, both the cop's gun and nightstick were used to seal the deal. As such, suspects occasionally received blows about the legs or head from the arresting officer's billy club. The cop's target for the sweet spot of his club depended upon the egregiousness of a particular perp's lack of cooperation. As a result of such common knowledge, the threat of a “wooden shampoo” was effectively issued by cops on the beat, compelling loiterers and hooligans to “move along” quickly.
An argument could be made that such tactics constituted excessive force. However, during the era that preceded PC Mania and when “minority” arrests were exactly that, the police in New York City were never accused of abridging anyone's civil rights let alone of racism. Any cop would have made the counter argument that the taxpayers had equipped him with a gun and a nightstick for his own protection and for the protection of the citizenry and it would be a breach of promise not to use the tools of the trade as he was trained.
How would you subdue a man this size without using any weapons?
Would you quit arresting him if he says: "I can't breathe?"
In the smart phone video-recorded arrest of Eric Garner in Staten Island, which you certainly have viewed at least once by now, there are no weapons of any kind visible.
That a very large man who was clearly resisting arrest was quickly subdued without even the threat of deadly force is a testament to the reserve of the arresting officers. Furthermore, not one punch was thrown and no disparaging remarks were made by the cops.
If I'm a grand juror, after viewing that video I would need to be provided with more substantial evidence than was recorded by the eyewitness's smart phone in order to indict Officer Pantaleo on any homicide-related charge – especially since Mr. Garner remained alive during the entire arrest process, being pronounced dead some time later after being taken by ambulance to a local hospital.
Which brings us to the now-famous phrase “I can't breathe!” repeatedly uttered by Eric Garner from the moment his subdued body hit the sidewalk.
Like a man in desperate need of the Heimlich Maneuver due to a chunk of food blocking his windpipe, any plea for help by a choking perp would have to be acted out in pantomime for the utter inability to speak. That is not to say that Garner, an over-weight asthmatic smoker was not having difficulty breathing as the cops put pressure on him, but it is easy to agree with anyone who believes that resisting arrest could or perhaps should be an uncomfortable physical experience.
It is also a fact – to which I have been a witness on many occasions – that people being manhandled by police are very likely to claim that they are in pain, have broken bones and/or cannot breathe. Whether their injuries are real or faked, playing to the crowd makes suspects believe they will have an advantage in court or in a later civil suit against the city.
Exhale Eric Holder, Al Sharpton, Barack Obama et al. You have the right to remain silent but, if you choose to speak, anything you say can and will be held against you.