As a retired NYC Police Officer (I served twenty years in one of the highest crime precincts in the city) and head of a nationally active NYC-based smokers’ rights group (C.L.A.S.H.) for the last fifteen years, I think I bring a unique perspective to the table regarding the Eric Garner case. What I see is a two-part event as unrelated to each other as my own two roles.
The refrain, “he was killed for selling cigarettes,” that I’m hearing is a conflation of circumstances that offends my dual interest senses. No. He was approached for selling cigarettes. He was physically engaged for resisting arrest. Furthermore, he was not killed. He died.
What transpired after Garner refused requests to comply with a lawful order by police is an entirely different subject (police conduct) from what trained their attention on him in the first place (cigarette sales). Separate trials are in order.
A man at least twice the size of the officers present who couldn't just say, “Well, if you don’t want to go we’ll be seeing you,” was taken down to the ground in order to effect a lawful arrest. Any unintended residual compression was at best only a contributing factor in the death of a man suffering from a number of health ills. There was no premeditation on Officer Pantaleo’s part to “choke” him in retaliation for not complying (as too many predisposed to cop bashing are convinced occurred). Mental state is a crucial factor in assigning blame. Pantaleo was no more guilty of murderous thought or disregard for risk than a motorist who fatally hits a pedestrian crossing against the light. In plain language he just wanted to cuff him, not snuff him.
Schooled on the law and privy to all the facts and testimony, the grand jury concurs. And no video alone (short a scene of a person standing still and being shot in the back by police) can substitute for that in order to judge it intelligently. There is especially no replacement for having first walked a mile in an officer’s shoes to know what the many ingredients were for what took place. Every uttered "could have," "would have," "should have," may as well come from kindergartners.
Those who stubbornly cling to fruit from their own seed are lost causes. Their chain of reasoning takes on an error-filled life of its own when the starting premise is fatally flawed either willfully or ignorantly.
Thus ends the first trial. Peel this onion to its rotten core if you’re looking for an indictment.
Those who wave away the cigarette tax issue are either clueless (no knowledge of the depth of the anti-smoking campaign), anti-police (it will detract from their militancy) or anti-smoker sympathizers (don’t want attention drawn to it).
Jon Stewart said the cigarette tax is the “least salient aspect of this case” because “he could've been out there with mix tapes or a squeegee or a snow cone, and the same kind of s--t could have happened." His mistake is to put this particular subject in league with quality of life crimes that don’t share a single fingerprint.
I understand the point he’s expressing on behalf of many is that any interaction with police can escalate (though of course I disagree with the added insinuation that cops are the instigators). But that’s a red herring itself because this is one opportunity for interaction that wouldn't exist at all except for the work of one cast of characters.
Find me a horde that advocate and lobby for laws (literally daily for decades) against anything the way the anti-smoker crusaders do. Rather than lobbying Congress to shut down the industry they perversely turn their rage toward private citizens by trampling on civil liberties. Is there any other product under protest by one group or another that, in order to get their way, goes after the industry’s customers more than the industry?
[Author’s note: To drive home my point, as I write, a local TV news station just finished a protest story and the very next story was on a press release issued about a CDC study – designed to mold policy -- on the financial costs of smoking]
If you argue that the problem is that the police are up in too many faces then you can’t possibly be against the elimination of any one ground to do so.
That trial – the attraction to Garner in the first place -- starts here.
Loose cigarettes – forever commonly referred to as “loosies” – have been around, well, forever. You could find them in many a neighborhood store. They were mostly a matter of convenience for people who only wanted a smoke or two for the day. The war on smoking had yet to commence in earnest and this offense was low on the radar.
Then the neo-prohibitionists rode into town. Since then, loosies – no matter from a taxed or untaxed pack – are now sold on sidewalks too. Mass revolt overtook earlier mere convenience for the few, opening the door for individual entrepreneurs to fill the demand, created by ideologists, for financial relief. Don’t take my word for it. “The tax went up, and we started selling 10 times as much,” is how another loosie peddler put it to the NY Times a few years ago.
So when Senator Rand Paul and others said cigarette taxes and the illegality of selling single cigarettes were at the root of the Garner case they’re right. But they also frustratingly fail to dig to the seed. Draping the “Big Government” tent over the guilty party and leaving the blame dangling on the words “it’s a tax issue” lets particular tent crashers off the hook – tyrants who are best described by C.S. Lewis as more oppressive than robber barons who at least sleep, while the moral busybodies torment us without end.
Or more accurately described by a gentleman speaking to the New Zealand Herald when asked how he felt about buying bootleg cigarettes following Bloomberg’s city tax increase: “I should be guilty because I don't let him rip me off? F*** him!"
Evidence of who’s calling the shots regarding anti-smoking-related policy, including cigarette tax hikes, is abundant. This is a mere sampling. Despite local references, these groups are but organs of a national body:
“[O]rdinance sponsors should not call the shots in a smokefree campaign. Your coalition should.”
-- Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights document guide for organizations
Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights writes the law language (“Model Ordinance”) that lawmakers then introduce.
“[T]he Public Health Law Center worked along with [public health advocates]… writing almost every one of Minnesota’s local smoke-free ordinances, and also drafting tobacco taxation and product regulation policies."
“[T]he organization has led three successful campaigns to raise the cigarette tax in Pennsylvania since 1991.”
-- Executive Director, Smokefree Pennsylvania
“The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association of the Northeast and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids all endorse higher prices as a critical component of our strategy to prevent youth smoking and lower smoking rates in New York City.”
-- NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City
What occurs goes beyond the usual lobbying all groups are certainly entitled to in hopes of having their interests served through the enactment of a law or implementation of policy. The anti-smoker cartel doesn't just sit at the table, they run the meeting. Need a better image? Look no further than the recent shot of Al Sharpton sitting at the table between Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bratton to understand what I’m telling you.
Compliant former Gov. George Pataki swept in the first two significant state cigarette tax hikes (55 cents a pack in 2000 and 39 more cents in 2002), followed by former Gov. David Paterson who heaped on another $1.25 in 2008 and $1.60 more in 2010. The agenda preceded Bloomberg’s reign but he jumped on board immediately following his election, adding $1.42 to city smokes in 2002.
Ideology trumping financial gain is also found in Bloomberg’s kind – lawmakers who use their power to impose their shared paternalistic views on the governed – when he had this to say about his motives:
''If it were totally up to me, I would raise the cigarette tax so high the revenues from it would go to zero.'' [Link]
“This city is not walking away from our commitment to make it as difficult and as expensive to smoke as we possibly can…” [Link]
By the way, as a councilman, Mayor de Blasio voted for it.
In 2007 the same special interests tried to pressure Bloomberg to hike the city tax again, their culpability on display with these words from a previous director of the NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City: “[W]e all in tobacco control believe this is the next best thing to do.” This is a group that originally operated with the same email address as the NYC Department of Health [@health.nyc.gov].
As if it weren't enough, Obama’s first act as president was to raise the federal tax on cigarettes by 62 cents to $1.01 per pack (his request for 94 cents more in 2013 was rejected).
If it were as simple as revenue raising the rate would reflect a more rational number, not the 1110 percent combined increase that NYC residents were treated to in eight short years. There’s a sin tax and then there’s sinfully abusive taxation. No doubt revenue is the bonus effect for lawmakers trying to balance the budget, and they certainly aren't blameless for going along, but it’s not the primary driver. (And let me add here that anyone who entertains the thought that the street level cop is channeling the highest of their higher ups and thinking, “I’m going to make some money for the city today,” as a factor for taking action is a candidate for the purchase of the Brooklyn Bridge.)
Following his first cigarette tax hike, Gov. Paterson told a radio station that in hindsight he and the legislature acted excessively, blaming a supportive public poll that provided cover.
A description of the anti-smokers’ obsessive compulsive intolerance of all things smoking-related and the evil they feel it inflicts on the world (don’t forget “the children”) can be summed up by pointing to one of their own obscene advocacy ads: A portrayal of the World Trade Center as two smoking cigarettes instead, with a tag line that smoking kills more people than were killed by terrorists since 9/11. Intellect or conscience fully abandons them when they can’t or refuse to process the difference between someone rolling their own dice (a personally accepted risk) and having someone else load the dice with explosives and drop them on your head (definitive death by force).
So when Linda Chavez called the sale of loosies “a crime
with no victims” the sound you heard was that of hundreds of anti-smoker activists’ heads
exploding. But it’s their silence that
follows that’s incriminating.
They normally could be counted on to make a statement in some manner about anything to do with “saving lives” by keeping cigarettes out of reach. It’s not like loosie sales aren't in their cross hairs. As far back as 2001 the American Cancer Society was roaming around Harlem with recruited teen volunteers, looking for violators, according to an article in The New York Beacon headlined, “Denounce Sale of Loosies in Harlem.”
Whether through social media outlets, request from media or via press release, you can always find the addition of their two cents on any topic related to tobacco or smoking, Their relationship with city government is so tight that they are given space for statements in the mayor’s office press releases (sample) on the subject. Fire-safe cigarettes were about fire, not smoking, yet they were even at the vocal forefront of that push.
So where are they now when the tobacco control issue is undeniably related to the story of Eric Garner? His death has them hiding behind other’s indignation to suggestions that this tax policy plays any meaningful part in this. Helpful is that the media appears not to even be looking for them for comment. That or they’re not having their calls returned. At least one paper looked for me.
In that radio interview, Paterson went on to concede high cigarette taxes are built upon something greater than just the revenue benefit: “[A]nd I think unfortunately for smokers the whole industry is to some degree under attack and perhaps it becomes an avenue that public servants know they can get away with because the public doesn't seem to care.”
Under attack by and the control of Big Anti-Smoker. It’s only that the NYPD has been conscripted into their army to carry out their mission.
The lifestyle police, not the NYPD, are responsible for the death of Eric Garner. When will they be made to answer for themselves?
Eric Garner is what the public reaps from their indifference to issues that don’t directly affect them or, conversely, agree with the “attack.” The “merchants of death” (aka tobacco companies) screamers – aided by the indoctrinated and apathetic -- has caused the death of a merchant, not the industry.
In this most particular instance, the protesters should first look in a mirror and then "regroup" in front of the right door. So should everyone else.
Epilogue: Taken to its logical conclusion you can credit the anti-smokers’ account with two more bodies...