A Weekly Roundup of Politics: Eric Garner’s Murder, the Amazon Forest, and Newark’s Water Crisis

08.23.2019 Arts & Culture
Ann Lewis
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Eric Garner’s Murder

Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who killed Eric Garner in Staten Island in 2014, was finally fired from his job as a New York City Police Department officer. This comes after five years of investigation by the Department of Justice and the NYPD. 

Pantaleo’s fatal (and illegal) chokehold on Garner was filmed by Ramsey Orta in a video that sent shockwaves around the nation as Garner gasped for breath, declaring 11 times, “I can’t breathe.” His final words becoming a rallying cry for protesters challenging police brutality. Subsequently, Garner’s death — along with Michael Brown’s — spurred the formation of the Black Lives Matter Movement. 

While a grand jury failed to indict Pantaleo in 2014, the US Justice Department took five years to decide not to bring federal charges, believing that it could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Pantaleo’s actions were willful in causing Garner’s death. However, in 2015, the City of New York settled a civil case with the Garner family for $5.9 million. 

Presidential hopefuls Cory Booker (D-NJ) and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio both shared on social media this week that justice had finally been served to the Garner family. This comes after several protestors disrupted the Democratic Debates in Detroit yelling “Fire Pantaleo!” while each of the two were speaking. 

It’s hard to understand how the firing of Pantaleo five years after he murdered Garner is considered justice. He will serve no jail time, nor pay any restitution to the Garner family — the knock-on effects of the murder still devastating countless people. 

The victim’s daughter, Erica Garner, who became an activist fighting to end police brutality, died at the age of 27 in 2017 due to a heart attack. The stress of her father’s murder was likely a significant contributing factor to her early death. She left behind two young children.

Ramsey Orta, the man lauded for filming and sharing Garner’s murder, has been perpetually harassed by the NYPD for years since the incident. He has been falsely imprisoned, arrested for minor infractions, and even poisoned by corrections officers. He is currently serving time for a weapon possession charge that he states was planted on his companion by the police after months of surveillance and intimidation. 

Patrick J. Lynch, the President of the New York City Police Benevolent Association (a union that represents NYPD officers) released a statement condemning Pantaleo’s firing: “The NYPD will remain rudderless and frozen, and Commissioner O’Neill will never be able to bring it back. We are urging all New York City police officers to proceed with the utmost caution in this new reality, in which they may be deemed ‘reckless’ just for doing their job.”

What Lynch fails to reconcile with this statement, however, is that NYPD officers’ jobs are actually to ‘serve and protect’ the citizens of the city. Their jobs are not to place unarmed civilians in chokeholds so severe that they kill people for selling loose cigarettes on the street. Their jobs are not to stoke fear into the hearts of average citizens, nor to stop and frisk people of color for no reason, nor to meet widely reported arrest and ticket quotas.

The abuse of power in both policing and correctional organizations has perpetuated for centuries in this country. The ripple effects of Eric Garner’s murder is yet another example of this perennial pattern of American injustice. 

The Amazon Burns While Bolsonaro Cuts it Down

Several news organizations have been reporting on the immense number of wildfires currently burning in the world’s largest rainforest. Scientists say that the Amazon is our planet’s lungs because it produces 20% of the world’s oxygen, so it is highly concerning to the planet that over 25,000 fires have been reported in the Amazonian region this year — an 80% increase from last year! The smoke is currently so intense that in São Paulo (which is over 1,700 miles away) the sky is so thick with soot that it looks like midnight at noon. 

When Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro ran for President in 2018, he ran on a platform that the Amazon rainforest was open for business. He had aimed to boost a sluggish economy, but his efforts seem to be producing more harm as his administration is allowing unprecedented logging and deforestation. 

Ricardo Galvão, the former director of Brazil’s National Space and Research Institute (INPE), was fired on August 2nd after a very public spat with Bolsonaro regarding the rate in which the forest was being cut down. Citing satellite data which confirmed that June saw an 88% increase in logging than in 2017, Galvão was terminated by Bolsonaro who claimed that the data was “lies” and was hurting trade negotiations. Current deforestation rates clock in at about the square footage of 1½ soccer fields per minute, every day, all day. 

Newark’s Water Crisis

In other environment-related news, Newark New Jersey’s lead-contaminated water has reached another level of outrageous. Since 2009 Newark city officials have known that lead levels in children who lived there were up to three times the national average, with most of the areas affected being in poor and predominantly black neighborhoods. Officials chalked it up to the industrial nature of the city and old housing, but then shut off the drinking fountains in all schools after finding heightened lead levels in 2016.

By fall of 2018, the city had handed out over 40,000 home water filters because lead had been leaching into resident’s drinking water from old pipes. Now residents are being told to only drink bottled water because the filters may not be doing enough. 

Earlier this month the EPA sent a scathing letter to Newark officials regarding lead levels and the ineffectiveness of the filters: “We are unable at this time to assure Newark residents that their health is fully protected when drinking tap water filtered through these devices. Please be advised that EPA is prepared to take appropriate action under Section 1431{a) of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act to ensure protection of public health, should the state and city not promptly undertake these recommended actions.”

Despite the city’s massively polluted water, many Newark residents have been refused the free bottled water which the city is passing out, as officials are only offering water to residents of specific neighborhoods. Each household is limited to 48 24-ounce bottles every two weeks. That’s precisely enough drinking water for one person for 14 days and doesn’t include cooking or bathing. This means that the burden of buying bottled water is falling on citizens who are already struggling financially and who likely don’t have the funds to replace old lead pipes in their homes that are contributing to heightened lead levels.

Ann Lewis is an artist, activist, and writer based in Detroit. Her artwork reflects upon social and environmental justice issues.

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