In an interview with Fusion that will air in its entirety Tuesday evening, former President Bill Clinton told interviewer Jorge Ramos that Eric Garner did not deserve to die for the minor crime of selling untaxed cigarettes. Clinton expressed sympathy for Garner’s family and echoed many of the same points that his wife Hillary touched on earlier this month when she discussed the Staten Island grand jury decision surrounding Garner’s death. On December 3rd, the grand jury decided not to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Garner, even though there was video evidence showing Pantaleo using an illegal chokehold and a medical examiner had ruled Garner’s death a homicide.
In the aftermath of the grand jury decision, protests have flared up all across the country, demanding justice for Garner and other unarmed black men who have been unjustly killed by law enforcement. This past weekend, tens of thousands gathered in New York City, Washington, D.C and elsewhere to take part in protest marches. Prior to the Garner decision, demonstrations had been ongoing in relation to the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was shot and killed by former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on August 9th. A St. Louis County grand jury decided not to indict Wilson last month, leading to violent protests in Ferguson and demonstrations in cities nationwide.
In his interview with Fusion, Clinton spoke at length on the Garner decision and the issues it has brought to the forefront of our national conversation. When discussing the arrest that led to Garner’s death, Clinton said the following:
“He was obviously not well, he was overweight and vulnerable therefore had lung problems, heart and lung problems. He was doing something he should not have been doing. That was illegal. He was selling untaxed cigarettes on the street in small volumes, trying to make a little extra money.
But he didn’t deserve to die because of that.”
Below is video of the interview excerpt, courtesy of Fusion:
Clinton’s words were far more sympathetic than those uttered by Rep. Peter King (R-NY) the day the Staten Island grand jury handed down its decision. King, whose Congressional district is in Staten Island, blamed Garner for his own death. The following is from the article I wrote regarding King’s comments.
King was interviewed on CNN hours after the grand jury announced its decision. In a moment that can only be described as disgustingly crass, King claimed that the police officer was “just doing his job” and that Garner is dead because of his weight and his bad health, not from anything the cop did. King said, “If he had not had asthma, and a heart condition, and was so obese, he would not have died from this.” King even insinuated that Garner was lying when he repeatedly stated “I can’t breathe,” since if someone can talk, they can breathe.
The interview will also feature Clinton discussing issues of race as it involves law enforcement and how racial tension has been exacerbated by these two grand jury decisions and the feeling among the black community that they are being targeted by police. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton touched on this the day after the Garner decision was announced.Prior to a scheduled speech in Massachusetts that day, Mrs. Clinton offered these remarks:
“Each of us has to grapple with some hard truths about race and justice in America. Because despite all the progress we’ve made together, African-Americans, and most particularly, African-American men, are still more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charge with crimes, and sentenced to longer prison terms.
The United States has less than 5% of the world’s population, yet we have almost 25% of the world’s total prison population. It is because we have allowed our criminal justice system to get out of balance. And I personally hope that these tragedies give us the opportunity to come together as a nation to find our balance again.
These tragedies did not happen in some far away place. They didn’t happen to some other people. These are our streets, our children, our fellow Americans, and our grief.”
Besides the Garner and Brown cases, another tragic killing that has gathered national attention is the police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland last month. Police shot and killed the young black child seconds after confronting him near a playground. Rice was holding a toy airsoft gun. A grand jury has been convened to decide the fate of Officer Timothy Loehmann. Records indicate Loehmann had been recommended for termination at his former department due to his inability to handle pressure before being hired by the Cleveland force.