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Opinion

Editorials of The Times

Posted May 15, 2018 10:50 p.m. EDT

Police Reforms Can Honor Eric Garner

Like so many other black men in the United States, Eric Garner has been denied justice even in death.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is considering, but is expected to reject, federal civil rights charges against Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer whose use of a chokehold on Garner led to his death on a Staten Island street in 2014.

A state grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo on homicide charges in 2014. Obama Justice Department officials sat on the case for nearly a year, as civil rights prosecutors in Washington feuded with federal prosecutors in New York who didn’t think the evidence was strong enough. The Justice Department asked the city to delay police disciplinary proceedings while it was considering the matter. The case landed on Rosenstein’s desk in recent weeks when civil rights prosecutors recommended bringing charges over the objections of the prosecutors in New York.

Hope for any justice probably lies in Mayor Bill de Blasio and his police commissioner, James O’Neill, doing what should have been done years ago: firing Pantaleo.

But the bigger question is why, given his record, Pantaleo was on the street the day he wrapped his arm around Garner’s throat, and why New York police officers so often avoid real discipline for wrongdoing.

By the time Pantaleo approached Garner outside a Staten Island beauty supply store because he thought he was selling untaxed loose cigarettes, the city’s independent Civilian Complaint Review Board had substantiated four allegations of abuse against him in two incidents since he joined the department in 2006, according to leaked disciplinary records published by ThinkProgress last year.

That record should have served as a red flag. As of May 1, just 8 percent of the city’s 36,000 police officers had ever had a single complaint against them substantiated by the review board. Just 550 officers — 2 percent of the force — had two substantiated complaints. Pantaleo was disciplined just once, lightly. After an abusive frisk in 2012, the Police Department docked him two days of vacation pay.

The Garner case is an example of a larger problem: Like his predecessors, de Blasio, who was elected promising to make policing fairer for black and Latino New Yorkers, has not done enough to hold the police accountable for misconduct and abuse.

There are signs of progress. Complaints against officers are down since de Blasio took office. So are police stops, though they had already begun a steep decline in 2013 under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, after a federal judge struck down the city’s aggressive use of the tactic known as stop and frisk as unconstitutional.

But in many ways the mayor — stung in his first term when hundreds of police officers turned their backs on him at the funerals of two officers murdered because of the uniform they wore — has resisted attempts at reform.

De Blasio opposed legislation increasing oversight of police stops, eventually backing a more limited version amid the threat that City Council members would override his veto. He threatened to veto legislation that would have made the use of a chokehold by a police officer a crime.

Many of the racial disparities under Bloomberg that de Blasio rightfully denounced have persisted. Arrests for marijuana possession are down to about 17,000 a year, half of what they were under Bloomberg. But city data shows blacks and Latinos continue to make up an overwhelming majority of those arrested. Police Department officials have said their enforcement mirrors complaints, but they have yet to provide compelling data to back up the claim. Facing political pressure, de Blasio said on Tuesday that the police would overhaul their marijuana enforcement policy within 30 days.

A report from the Civilian Complaint Review Board in December found that the police commissioner was increasingly rejecting the board’s disciplinary recommendations. Police officials say many of the complaints substantiated by the board are for minor infractions.

The public will just have to take their word for that, since the city no longer discloses disciplinary records of police officers, citing a state civil rights law that the mayor and O’Neill say that they oppose but that can be changed only by the state Legislature. Republican control of the Senate makes that unlikely.

In the almost four years since Garner’s death, black men and boys who have died unjustly at the hands of the police — Walter Scott in South Carolina, Philando Castile in Minnesota, Tamir Rice in Cleveland — have been memorialized, honoring the humanity that has been lost. But more needs to be done.

The officer who used a chokehold on Garner should be fired. But the mayor needs to make it clear that New York City will hold the rest of its 36,000 police officers accountable and will work to make that discipline public if they abuse their powers and violate the public trust.

An Indecent Disrespect

President Donald Trump’s rejection of the Iran nuclear deal has unleashed a rare fury in Europe. Following his withdrawal from the Paris climate accords, his tariffs on imported steel, the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, the rewriting of international trade agreements and all the other signs of disdain for the priorities of America’s traditional allies, many Europeans are furiously proclaiming the trans-Atlantic relationship dead. However palpable the frustration, the question once again is whether Europeans are prepared to, or even able to, stand up to the bully across the sea.

Certainly this is what many Europeans would dearly love to do. Europe must not accept being the “vassals” of the United States, declared the French finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, whose boss, President Emmanuel Macron, so recently kissed and hugged Trump in a futile effort to influence him. “We have to stop being wimps,” said Nathalie Tocci, a senior adviser to the European Union.

The cover of the German weekly newsmagazine Der Spiegel reflected a common sentiment in its depiction of Trump as a middle finger proclaiming, “Goodbye, Europe!” The fiery editorial inside called for “resistance against America.”

“The West as we once knew it no longer exists,” Der Spiegel’s editors wrote. “Our relationship to the United States cannot currently be called a friendship and can hardly be referred to as a partnership. President Trump has adopted a tone that ignores 70 years of trust.”

Then there are the hard facts. Europe’s trade with the United States is incomparably larger than its trade with Iran, and even if Britain, France and Germany — co-signers of the Iran accord, along with China, the European Union, Russia and the United States — try to maintain the Iran deal and support their companies against so-called secondary sanctions by Washington, many European banks and industries would be wary of defying America’s enormous economic clout, and especially the reach of its banking system.

Trump, who has long complained about Germany’s trade surplus and Europe’s low military spending, is not overly sympathetic to Europe’s economic or security concerns, and even less so with the überhawkish John Bolton now as his national security adviser. In a phone call to British, French and German officials last Wednesday, Bolton said there would be no sanctions exemptions for European companies.

The anger in Europe, however, is not so much about the cost of renewed sanctions as about the total, humiliating disdain for the Europeans’ arguments, and, by extension, for the trans-Atlantic alliance and all it has stood for since World War II. If Europeans allowed other powers, including allies, to make security decisions for them, “then we are no more sovereign and we cannot be more credible to public opinion,” Macron said in a statement that echoed the sentiments of many of his European neighbors.

There have been bitter differences before, notably over the war in Iraq, but to Europeans, Trump’s contempt is of a higher order, an arrogant mindset that even on matters of paramount global importance, America will do what it wants without giving a damn for the interests of its closest allies.

That was made stunningly clear by a tweet from the new ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, shortly after he presented his credentials last Tuesday, declaring that German companies doing business in Iran “should wind down operations immediately.” To the Germans, that was an unacceptable order to fall in line, and Grenell’s subsequent assurances that there would be no trade war did little to temper the outrage.

Roiled by its own internal crises and divisions, Europe lacks the big stick that would compel Trump to listen to reason. The sweet talk attempted by Macron has proved equally futile. But that does not excuse Europe, and especially Germany, Britain and France, from standing firm against Washington’s bullying and making every effort to keep the Iran deal — and all the other aspects of the international order Trump has tried to destroy — from collapse.

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