Commissioner Bratton would like to change the penalty for resisting arrest from a misdemeanor to a felony. This of course, coming off the heels of a period of time where the New York Police Department is under a lot of criticism for excessive force, accused police brutality, and of course the highly publicized murder of Eric Garner during a street investigation. In his statement to the Senate, Bratton stated, “We need to get around this idea that you can resist arrest,” he stated. “It results in potential injuries to the officer, to the suspect. And the way to change that, is to start penalties for it.” One has to question the memory of the police commissioner, because he cannot seem to remember how the Eric Garner police interaction unfolded.
I have probably watched the video depicting the death of Eric Garner over 20 times. It still makes me physically ill. Partially because I realize that, I am looking at the last moments of someone’s life, and also because I realize that other people see something completely different. I see a man who was put in an illegal choke hold to force compliance, and loses his life as a result. Others see a man who resisted arrest, and died because he did not follow the instructions of an officer of the law. Either way, we need to be clear here. The bar is currently set at the ideal that death is an acceptable result to resisting arrest. No judge, no jury. Just a method to subdue suspects that was banned due to danger of the move to the person receiving it.
Perhaps what is worse than this proposed policy change is the understanding that the charge “resisting arrest” is very ambiguous in usage and nature. There is no definition of what a suspect has to do in order to qualify for resisting arrest. The charge is completely at the officer’s discretion, and in many cases has been proved to be used just to justify the holding of a suspect when no other charges can be filed. This is evident, by the astonishing number of resisting arrest charges that get dropped at the trial stage of the case. In addition, a study was recently done on the New York Police Department, where it was found that only 40% of active officers ever filed resisting arrest charges and of those officers, a tiny 5% accounted for a staggering 40% of the overall resisting arrest charges. It would seem that if there is corruption with resisting arrest charges in New York City, that 2.5% of officers would be a good place to start.
However, like stated above, police Commissioner Bratton has instead decided that it is better to raise the penalty for resisting arrest, as opposed to investigating the use of the charge itself, as well as the tactics used to enforce it. Fiscally, that probably makes sense to the more conservative members of our society, because money will not have to be spent re-training officers, and the city won’t lose a large chunk of revenue due to a fall in arrests. More despicable though, is now when a suspect dies under the same circumstances as Eric Garner, the officer in question can simply say that the person was committing a felony, instead of relying on a charge that allows for such a wide interpretation like resisting arrest. No matter how much he panders to the mayor, and appeals to state lawmakers, Commissioner Bratton cannot hide the fact that his proposals look like he is trying to retroactively justify the murder of Eric Garner, and keep the police force and their union watchdogs from turning their backs on him too. Here’s hoping that the state senate sees through his hollow actions, and turns down his attempts further alienate the civilian population.