The average citizen has plenty of opinions, and politicians are no different — the only difference being that the latter are in positions of power, and therefore have more of a chance to voice his or her point of view no matter how asinine. Today, our politician-of-choice is Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who blamed "taxes" for Eric Garner's death at the hands — literally — of NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo who put him in a chokehold.
If you haven't been following the nation's latest heartbreaking injustice of yet another police officer being renounced of responsibility for killing a black man, Garner, a 43-year-old father of three was kept in a stranglehold, and then dragged to the ground as police officers piled on in an attempt to subdue him. His crime? The man behind the video and a friend of Garner's, Ramsey Orta, said that Garner was trying to break up a fight when cops who arrived at the scene accused him of selling untaxed cigarettes and tried to arrest him.
The Staten Island grand jury's Wednesday ruling acquitting Pantaleo of criminal charges sent a wave of fury throughout the nation, and Sen. Paul acknowledged on MSNBC's Hardball of how horrifying the video evidence was — but then went on lay partial blame on politicians for the high cigarette taxes in NYC:
Well you know I think it’s hard not to watch that video of him saying "I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe" and not be horrified by it. But I think there’s something bigger than the individual circumstances. Obviously, the individual circumstances are important. But I think it is also important to know that some politician put a tax of $5.85 on a pack of cigarettes so that driven cigarettes underground by making them so expensive. But then some politician also had to direct the police to say, "hey we want you arresting people for selling a loose cigarette." And for someone to die over breaking that law, there really is no excuse for it. But I do blame the politicians. We put our police in a difficult situation with bad laws.
While I am sure that a police officer's job is challenging and requires plenty of level-headedness to wade through murky laws — a label that doesn't seem to apply to cigarette taxes — the senator faulting taxes for Garner's death is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Cigarette taxes and police brutality have nothing to do with one another; Garner did not die for selling cigarettes illegally.
As we have seen during a turbulent second-half of the year in which a slew of police brutality incidents have been widely covered by the media — besides Garner, Michael Brown and John Crawford III were among the most high profile of deaths whose killers weren't indicted — the issues at hand are police violence, a disparate representation in police forces of the communities they are supposed to protect, and a justice system that sorely requires fixing. Garner's case is especially infuriating, because as anyone who's watched the video of that painful incident can tell you, the officer was clearly, undoubtedly in the wrong for holding Garner in a chokehold that goes against NYPD policy — despite his many, many pleas for air.
Perhaps the libertarian lawmaker — who is a possible nominee for Republican presidential candidacy in 2016 — should take a closer look at the situation before pointing fingers at unrelated issues. It is true that police officers do face difficult situations sometimes, but that comes with being in a position of authority — if the police don't know how to handle that power, they shouldn't have it in the first place.
Images: MSNBC Hardball/Screenshot (2); Getty Images (2)