Commenting on the death of Eric Garner (video of protesters, below) at the hands of police officer Daniel Pantaleo in New York City's Staten Island (the traditionally Republican part of NYC), Rand Paul on Hardball opined
Obviously, the individual circumstances are important, but I think it’s also important to know that some politician put a tax of $5.85 on a pack of cigarettes, so they’ve 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.
Laura Clawson of Daily Kos responded "That's right, the guy who claims that 'you'll find nobody in Congress doing more for minority rights than me right now, Republican or Democrat' thinks that the killing of a black man by a police officer was actually about taxes."
Charles Pierce similarly wasn't convinced and remarked
Just last June, a little less than a month before Eric Garner's killing, a guy in Brooklyn was busted for selling untaxed cigarettes. He was found with almost 900 boxes of contraband and $90,000. He also was not choked to death by the arresting officers so, no, sorry, I think there might have been (ahem) other, more immediate factors in play in the case of Eric Garner, but thank you for your input.
Paul, as you might have guessed, wants us all to imagine Big Government was at fault and blaming everything on "taxes" (income? sales? excise?) never lost anyone a vote in Repub presidential primaries.
Eric Garner wasn't choked to death because of cigarette taxes. Joan Walsh notes
we don’t even know for sure that Garner was selling loose cigarettes at the time he was taken into custody and killed. Also, a lot of folks who sell loose cigarettes buy them cheap, and sell them for more than they paid — but also pay taxes on them. It’s not always a tax dodge. So it’s not even clear if Paul is right about the tax issue.
It's not always a tax dodge, Garner may not have been selling loose cigarettes but the officers (legitimately) believed he was. And then they moved in to confront and ultimately to apprehend the presumed offender. The choke hold- contrary to departmental policy- aside, the police were following fairly normal policy.
And the name of this policy is "broken windows" policing. Slate's Justin Peters explains
Why was Garner approached at all? Because of the emphasis on “broken windows policing” under NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton. As Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s police commissioner in the 1990s, Bratton presided over a surge in petty-crime law enforcement, on the theory that vigorously enforcing the small laws in some way dissuades or prevents people from breaking the big ones. There’s little evidence that theory is correct. Nevertheless, mayor-elect Bill de Blasio brought Bratton back as New York’s police commissioner last December. Bratton’s return meant the return of broken windows policing. “If you take care of the little things, then you can prevent a lot of the big things,” Bratton said in March, spouting the broken windows gospel. It’s that philosophy as much as anything else is to blame for Eric Garner’s death.
The city adopted broken windows and combined it with the computer program Compstat, which monitors crime rates citywide.. Nonetheless,
We do know that the declines in violent crime in New York have been comparable to declines in cities that didn’t use Compstat or broken windows. As criminologist Richard Rosenfeld put it in a 2002 paper, “homicide rates also have decreased sharply in cities that did not noticeably alter their policing policies, such as Los Angeles, or that instituted very different changes from those in New York, such as San Diego.” The takeaway: Crime just keeps going down everywhere. Nobody is sure why.
Since liberal Democrat Bill DeBlasio was elected mayor partly in response to disenchantment with the stop-and-frisk tactics instituted by his predecessor, "broken windows has replaced stop-and-frisk as the controversial police tactic du jour." According to The New York Times, arrests of peddlers and peddlers on the subway, for low-level violations in public housing developments, and for drinking beer in public and riding a bike on the subway have increased. But, Peters continues
This renewed emphasis on misdemeanor “quality of life” arrests has sparked renewed criticisms from community members who are tired of being hassled. These criticisms spiked after Garner’s death in July. Six members of New York’s congressional delegation sent Attorney General Eric Holder a letter noting that “Mr. Garner’s death has taken place in the context of a broken windows policing strategy that appears to target communities of color for the enforcement of minor violations and low-level offenses.”
"Communities of color" (colored communities?) are targeted because they are disproportionately economically deprived and thus (surprise!) there are more offenses committed there. But whatever the justification for concentrating efforts in black neighborhoods, the obsession with minor offenses undermines police-community relations and understandably sparks a suspicion of racial intent.
It is destructive and relatively ineffective. Were law enforcement aggresively to implement broken windows, there would be more of the kind of confrontation law enforcement had with Eric Garner (and with Michael Brown, who was unacceptably walking in the street). When police officers are met with resistance when they attempt to enforce the law, they are not amused. Confrontation over cigarettes or streetwalking (double entendre intended) is not worth the gamble and disintegration of community relations. End it for the benefit of everyone, inner-city blacks and all of us.