The Politics and Demographics that Sabotaged the #EricGarner Grand Jury Decision


Staten Island is New York City’s only reliably Republican borough in part because it is the city’s whitest, least ethnically diverse borough.race

Even though Blacks were slightly over-represented on the Eric Garner grand jury compared to Staten Island’s overall population, it’s quite obvious that there is not a lot of sympathy among the white population there for the plight of Blacks at the hands of law enforcement. This, in turn, ought not to surprise anyone either since 3,000 of the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) 17,000 officers who live in the city reside there and the island is racially segregated (de facto, not de jure).race2

With these demographic and political factors at work, the local jury pool was bound to be biased in favor of Officer Chokehold. However, the local prosecutor, Republican Dan Donovan, wielded enormous power and discretion in this case and probably could have gotten an indictment if he wanted one (grand juries decline to indict in about 11% of cases) since the legal evidentiary standard he had to meet — probable cause that a crime was committed — is so much lower than being able to proving the officer’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt as in a regular criminal prosecution. Especially given the fact that the city coroner ruled Eric Garner’s death a homicide. But the prosecution focused all its investigative sting on Garner, the victim in the case, and not on the officers who took his breath and life away.

The protest movement that has erupted locally over the case in reaction to the rigged grand jury’s abdication of its responsibility does not have clear political demands or goals. Garner’s mother (understandably) is cynical about the notion that body cameras on police officers will make any positive difference and she is right that they are not a panacea for a problem that is rooted in the inherent conflicts of interest that arise when prosecutors who work hand-in-glove with the police are suddenly expected to prosecute their collaborators in a fair and impartial manner. Specially appointed prosecutors from outside the jurisdiction would help but so would electing prosecutors not endorsed by the police unions as Donovan was in his 2011 race.


Getting rid of Donovan and replacing him with someone who is not simply an extension of the NYPD in 2015 ought to be one goal for the movement but clearly, based on the ballot results of the 2011 race, it will be an uphill struggle to say the least. The Democrats solicit and gain the support of the Conservative Party while forces to the left are not even on the ballot (look at the write-ins above) and Donovan was some 70% of the vote in the 2011 race.

One response to “The Politics and Demographics that Sabotaged the #EricGarner Grand Jury Decision

  1. Pingback: #BlackLivesMatter and Political Change in #Ferguson | Revolutionary Democratic Socialism

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