Although notice on cigarette packs warn that smoking the sticks can cause mouth and throat cancer, in addition to being a leading cause of death, African Americans Eric Garner and George Floyd would perish via police brutalities albeit with a cigarette connection.
Garner, a 43-year-old father of six, was arrested on suspicion of illegally selling loose, untaxed cigarettes on July 17, 2014. He died after undercover police put him in a chokehold that had been banned by the NYPD. Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who is white, put Garner in the chokehold while Garner repeatedly said “I can’t breathe” until he lost consciousness and died an hour later.
City medical examiner ruled the chokehold contributed to Garner’s death who was asthmatic and weighed more than 350lb (160kg).
Garner’s arrest and pleas for air were fortunately captured in a video by a bystander which showed Pantaleo wrapping his arm around Garner’s neck as they struggled on a street in the city’s Staten Island borough.
Despite using the chokehold technique which the department had banned more than two decades before, the white police officer was suspended with pay and only fired when pressure mounted but a grand jury declined to indict him on criminal charges. Prosecutors claimed there was insufficient evidence to bring charges.
Failing to see the officer/officers responsible for their kin’s death jailed, the Garner family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit arguing that Garner was not given sufficient medical aid by emergency officials. The city of New York reached a $5.9m settlement with the family in 2015.
If Garner’s “I can’t breathe” last words rallied the Black Lives Matter protesters demanding police reform, the killing of 46-year-old Floyd on May 25, 2020, would energize the movement protest across the 50 states of the U.S.
This time around, Floyd, in the company of a male and female, had reportedly entered the business space of Cup Foods based in Minneapolis for a pack of cigarettes. Co-owner Mahmoud Abumayyaleh claims he was informed by another worker in his store that a counterfeit $20 bill was used for payment whereupon that worker called 911 as was the standard practice.
According to Abumayyaleh, the police are informed about counterfeit bills so they can trace where they originated from as the bearer often has no clue that they are in possession of such false notes. He adds the encounter shouldn’t have led to Floyd’s death, labeling police action as excessive.
Floyd was pulled from his car, handcuffed and then pinned beneath three police officers making him unable to breathe and not even the pleas of onlookers would make officer Derek Chauvin lift his knee off Floyd’s neck.
Floyd became unconscious and showed no signs of life. A combination of videos from bystanders and security cameras once again enabled the world to see how callously the officers acted.
The day after Floyd’s death, the Police Department fired all four of the officers involved in the episode. On June 3, Hennepin County prosecutors announced second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges against Chauvin and also charged each of the three other former officers — Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao — with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
Protestors and observers wait to see if any of Floyd’s killers will serve jail time. Isn’t it curious that the cigarette connection should claim the lives of these adult Black men, not for robbing a bank nor for a mass shooting in a school?