What Is Your Excuse for the Cop Who Killed Eric Garner?

This is why people are marching. Because they are tired — and so are the excuses.

Protestors at the City Hall tree lighting ceremony on Wednesday evening. Photo | Bryan Buttler

Protestors at the City Hall tree lighting ceremony on Wednesday evening. Photo | Bryan Buttler

“Negroes — Sweet and docile,
Meek, humble, and kind:
Beware the day — They change their mind.”
—Langston Hughes

Black people are angry. I don’t mean this as a euphemism. I mean this to say that the people you see protesting on the streets are pissed off and fed up. I mean this to say that I know quite a few black folks that cried at work yesterday. That may include allied folks of other communities, because it’s not just black people you see out there with signs. There is a storm brewing.

When I first started to write this piece, I was going to explain why the protests have continued long after the decision to not indict Darren Wilson. I was going to explain that it’s not just about Mike Brown or Trayvon Martin or Jordan Davis or Renisha McBride or Sean Bell or Amadou Diallo or Tamir Rice (I could go on, really). I was going to use phrases I’d lifted from signs about how the system needs to be indicted. I was going to lay out a rational argument.

And then I got a phone call.

A grand jury in New York has decided — despite video evidence, despite the use of an illegal chokehold, despite a “homicide” ruling from the medical examiner — that officer Daniel Pantaleo would not be indicted.

Each week, I go back and review the comments that readers make on my columns; I have received e-mails from some, and sometimes Tweets as well. For each murder, there is an excuse.

When Trayvon Martin was killed, there were those of you who argued that George Zimmerman was exonerated because there were no witnesses.

When Mike Brown was killed, you all told me that there was no video evidence and that Darren Wilson should be able to go free.

What will you say of Eric Garner? And still, there is no indictment.

That’s why people are marching. Because they are tired and so are the excuses.

Because there is more concern in this country about property damage than the deaths that incite them. Because there is a need to characterize righteous black indignation as crazed rage or violence. Or riots. Have you noticed our preoccupation with riots lately? And to that point, let me also say that there is nothing more American than rioting. The Boston Tea Party was a riot. “Riot is the language of the unheard,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said.

For months, those who have called for “order” and who have condemned the protesters have been wantonly ahistorical in their references to King, who once wrote, “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.”

Let us not forget that King died at the hands of white violence.

Because the man of color who filmed Eric Garner’s death was indicted, and his murderer was not.

Because George Zimmerman walks free and Mark O’Mara has a cushy analyst spot on CNN on the death of a black child.

So the streets in Philadelphia, in New York City, in Washington, D.C., in Ferguson, in Atlanta, in Boston will continue to flood with protesters who are angry, who have had enough.

Because black lives matter. Because we can’t breathe.

Follow Maya K. Francis on Twitter.