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Eric Garner Lessons To Be Learned

Dear Editor: 

I appreciate Ilyassha Shivers’ frustration with the grand jury’s decision in the Eric Garner case. Unlike Ferguson, where rumors outnumbered facts, we had clear video from Staten Island of an unarmed man dying unnecessarily. I’d like to know what the grand jury heard. However, we should be very cautious about changing the grand jury system. 

Let’s remember the grand jury is a right granted to us in the Bill of Rights. It is there to protect the accused (almost always a civilian, not a police officer). The secrecy of the grand jury makes it easier for witnesses to come forward and tell truths that their neighbors may not want to hear. Consider what happened in Ferguson. With people whipped into frenzy by stories of a racially motivated execution in broad daylight, it took courage for witnesses to come forward with testimony that contradicted their angry neighbors’ beliefs. How much harder would it have been for these witnesses to do their duty if they did not have the protection of secrecy? Truth is the most important currency of our justice system. 

Of course, one of the common threads of the Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin tragedies was Al Sharpton. When people of his ilk get involved, the truth is harder to get at. Worse, his inflammatory, self-serving approach moves us further away from solutions. Certainly, there are racial issues to be explored, especially in Ferguson (and the greater St. Louis area) where the promise of America seems broken. However, there are other essential questions citizens from all quarters need to address together, such as: 

  • When is it okay for law officers to take deadly action against citizens?  
  • How can we de-escalate conflicts between citizens and officers?  
  • How are we screening police applicants who may be entrusted with a gun and public safety? (It seems to me police departments in Florida recognized that George Zimmerman was not a good candidate while the Cleveland PD completely dropped the ball in hiring the cop who shot Tamir Rice.) 

These are important questions that repeatedly do not get answered or even addressed after the people who profit from racial divisions grab control of the narrative. As always, I appreciate Ilyassha’s thoughtful approach. I hope the different parts of our community can learn more together so that we can all have faith in justice and the justice system.