“This gut-wrenching account of the death and life of Eric Garner is a deep dive into every aspect of the case, including its legal impact, which is minimal, and its cultural and political ones, which have been profound.”
Featured in Washington Post’s Best 10 Books of 2017.
On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner, a forty-three-year-old African-American, was selling bootlegged cigarettes on the street in Staten Island, when he was tackled by a police officer who was there to arrest him. The officer put him in what was later called an illegal chokehold. Videos of the arrest showed that Garner’s last words were ‘I Can’t Breathe’, words that millions of people across the world saw and were horrified by; words that the then-new Black Lives Matter movement adopted as its rallying cry. The officer wasn’t indicted.
Matt Taibbi retells these events and presents to us the real Eric Garner who until then had only been a story in headlines. The book shows us who Garner was – warts and all. He was a father, and a husband and his personal history were complicated. He wasn’t a devil or an angel; he was a man with pride who wanted to take care of his family, was supremely unlucky and, in the end, was brought down by forces he had no control over.
Taibbi takes a long and hard look at what made this tragedy possible since miscarriage of justice isn’t something that happens in isolation. He writes of life on the street and in the court system, vignettes that make these encounters come alive for his readers. The book covers a lot of ground including racial disparity, mass incarceration, policing and the underground economy. He doesn’t spare anyone – not the conservative DA prosecuting the officer reluctantly and not the mayor who is a progressive but is caught between the police officials who are reluctant and the activists who are outraged.