Reprinted from Campaign For America's Future
Eric Garner Choked to Death By NYPD Over Untaxed Cigarettes
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Death, like life, occurs within an interconnected web of forces. Eric Garner died at a specific place and time, but he was drawn there by those larger unseen forces. So was the officer who took his life.
One of them never left.
The neighborhood where Eric Garner died was near the terminal point for the Staten Island Ferry, which leaves lower Manhattan from a newly-built building on Whitehall Street.
The Whitehall building is a few minutes' walk from Wall Street, and it shows. Commuters leaving at the end of a downtown workday enter a gleaming and futuristic edifice of steel and glass, a 21st landmark which evokes the preceding century's enduring faith in the future.
They called it "the American Century" back then, and the metropolis of New York was its capital. Its great works of architecture were temples to prosperity, shrines to an era of growth they thought would never end.
A 2005 Newsday article gushed that the Whitehall ferry building's landscaping seemed to "embrace harried commuters in rough, thoroughly secular imitation of St. Peter's Square welcoming pilgrims." It employs a "state-of-the-art heating and air conditioning system, partially powered by solar panels." It boasts a number of retail shops, as well as New York City's only indoor farmer's market.
The terminal station on Staten Island is considerably more modest. A small building stands alone against the dock, wedged between a large parking lot and inland waters which are often covered with small whitecaps. The address is 1 Bay Street. The spot where Eric Garner died is just a few minutes' walk from the ferry terminus, at 202 Bay Street.
Pilgrims would feel less welcome there.
The image on Google Maps shows the storefront of Bay Beauty Supply, where multiracial models strike poses in the window. Next door is "Wig Zone" (or is that "Wig Zone Fever"?). A small neon sign tell us there's an ATM inside. Stenciling on the window reads "On Sale, Regular Wig, $9.99."
Two neighborhoods, separated by a 25-minute ferry ride.
We were told that Mr. Garner was selling "loosies," or individual cigarettes, on the street the day he died. We weren't told why he was selling them -- or why he was able to find a steady supply of customers there, paying a steep markup for a single smoke because they couldn't afford to buy an entire pack at a time.
That's part of the poverty trap: Those who can't afford regular prices wind up paying even more.
According to news reports, Garner had been employed by the City of New York as a horticulturist. We don't know how he came to be unemployed, but we do know that New York City's payroll has been cut by more than 16,000 employees since the financial crisis of 2008.
That financial crisis was caused by banker fraud. Fraud. Criminal behavior. Committed on Wall Street. At the other end of the ferry line.
None of the bankers who orchestrated that fraud have been arrested. But Eric Garner was. He was being arrested again when he died.