Everything and the Cop

EricGarner2In an interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN, U.S. Representative Peter King (R-NY) blamed Eric Garner’s death not on the cop who choked him out, but on Garner’s underlying medical condition.

As if the autonomous arm of Daniel Pantaleo–an officer already sued multiple times for false arrest–happened to find itself around Garner’s neck just as the man was having a heart attack.

Yet the Long Island congressman’s attempt at blaming the victim only draws attention to the larger problem he maneuvers to deflect.

King ends up instantiating the lengths to which the U.S. individualizes public health problems as a matter of policy. As I describe here and here, across many a disease and chronic illness, health is in fact deeply structured by the institutionally supported racism that left Garner’s body unattended on a Staten Island sidewalk.

We’re talking wide racial disparities in prostate cancer, kidney cancer, breast cancer, cervical cancer, oral cancers, lung cancer, colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, endometrical cancer, lymphomas, tooth loss, obesity and diabetes, chronic asthma, Lupus nephritis, HIV, hepatitis B and syphilis, gonorrhea, arthritis, stroke, and so on.

So blaming Garner’s obesity and asthma doesn’t absolve American racism. It only highlights the extent of its reach.

Indeed, police brutality itself–not a matter of bad apples, but a feature of systemic control–is repeatedly treated in the public health literature as yet another of the environmental exposures with which African Americans must contend.

Contra King, it isn’t everything but the cop. It’s everything and the cop.

There is much else to unpack from King’s repulsive take on the case. For starters, saying “I can’t breathe” doesn’t mean Garner the trickster, shades of Mike Brown the demon, could breathe fine enough. Surely Garner, a conscious being, understood his oxygen supply was tapping out.

Never mind King, channeling Samuel Cartwright’s spirometer-baked theories, argues as if Garner’s actual death an hour later couldn’t possibly substantiate Garner’s claims as to his own condition.

And white people still scratch their heads at the notion blacks have a problem with being treated with such dismissive contempt. For decades that kind of carefully cultivated myopia has been a source of a deeply dark humor among black comics, even as some whites are finally beginning to fess up to it.

There’s King’s notion too he had no doubt Garner would have been treated the same if he was white. And, after all, a black officer was in command at the scene.

“So,” arguing by both a hypothetical and an appeal to his own authority, “I don’t know where the racial angle comes in.”

Well, it turns out Garner wasn’t white. And all the data on stop-and-frisk and police murders by race–by black and white officers alike–contradict King up to the bittereinder bags underneath his eyes.

And that face, and what it represents, is the kind of existential horror many a white American must now brush their teeth to each morning. Until black lives matter.

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