Rolling Stone contributing editor Taibbi (Insane Clown President: Dispatches from the 2016 Circus, 2017, etc.) goes behind the scenes of an infamous police killing of an unarmed black man to explore a tragic national phenomenon.
When Eric Garner died on July 17, 2014, on a street in the New York City borough of Staten Island, much of the available information suggested police officers fatally choked him because he was resisting arrest for illegally selling untaxed cigarettes. The coverage also demonized Garner as a physically huge, threatening black man with an extensive criminal history. In the first 100 pages of this searing exposé, the author paints a portrait of Garner as a mostly well-liked street hustler trying to provide for his wife and children, a former talented athlete who eventually weighed more than 350 pounds due to lack of adequate self-care and proper health care. After deeply exploring Garner’s life from a variety of perspectives, Taibbi offers detailed reporting about the out-of-control Staten Island police officers present at the death scene, especially Daniel Pantaleo, an officer prone to excessive force who had already faced at least two civil rights lawsuits. In the second half of the book, the author explores the futile efforts of the Garner family to achieve posthumous justice and also to remove Pantaleo from the NYPD. Taibbi clearly shows how numerous police personnel, as well as the Staten Island district attorney and judge, frustrated the search for truth in every way they could. What emerges from the author’s superb reporting and vivid writing is a tragically revealing look at a broken criminal justice system geared to serve white citizens while often overlooking or ignoring the rights of others. “Garner’s death,” writes Taibbi, “and the great distances that were traveled to protect his killer, now stand as testaments to America’s pathological desire to avoid equal treatment under the law for its black population.”
Sure to be a fixture on any reading list or curriculum regarding the woeful state of the American criminal justice system.