A memorial for Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, July 21, 2014. (Reuters/Eduardo Munoz)

The vile right-wing response to Garner's death: Blame Bloomberg and NYC's cigarette tax

"No taxation without asphyxiation"


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Joanna Rothkopf
December 4, 2014 2:10AM (UTC)

For certain conservative pundits, even saying the word "race" is a taboo. Surely, the United States has transcended its evil history of slavery and systematic racism--if a man keeps his head down and does his work, he can achieve the American dream just like the rest of us. Even when faced with the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, unnecessary killings that were so clearly fueled by racial prejudices (Ben Stein went so far as to say that Brown couldn't be considered unarmed because he was armed with "his incredibly strong, scary self"), pundits shy away from discussions of bigotry and police brutality, and instead attribute these senseless events to prevalence of crime or poor upbringings or general thuggery.

The death of Eric Garner presented a rhetorical challenge: we've all seen the video of Garner's confrontation with the police-- he clearly posed no threat and complied with the officers' requests. There is no room for conjecture regarding whether or not Garner may have been provoking the police. So, pundits found a new target, one that jived with their platform of small government and police trustworthiness: New York City's cigarette tax.

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In the Washington Times, Lawrence J. McQuillan explained the conservative stance-- Garner was arrested because he was selling untaxed cigarettes, a no-no in the city that attaches an extra $1.50 per pack. He was subject to police force because he "chose to participate in the booming underground cigarette market as a smuggler." Furthermore, "These events confirm that police are ultimately the enforcers of the tax code, and every vote for higher taxes gives police increased authority to exert more force on citizens in more situations."

So it's not the officer's fault for using an illegal chokehold on a nonviolent asthmatic man. It's the tax's fault for existing.

With the news that a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict NYPD cop Daniel Pantaleo for Garner's death, Twitter erupted with the worst kind of politicizing and general disrespect for the loss of life.

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Joanna Rothkopf

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