New York Times Bestselling Author

Book Review: Nonfiction

Posted on Sep 18, 2017 |

I Can’t Breathe by Matt Taibbi



I found this nonfiction book hard to put down. It’s about Eric Garner and his death at the hands of overzealous police, but it’s also about all the lawyers and judges and policies in place to protect police officers and encourage the harassment of black and brown people.

Garner comes off as a sympathetic though flawed individual. The police officers and other members of law enforcement do not come off looking good at all. This is not about good cops; it’s about the bad ones who go unpunished.

I’ve been a fan of Matt Taibbi’s journalism for years, and this book cemented my admiration for his work. He criticizes liberals and conservatives alike for allowing this sort of discriminatory policing to be encouraged. Garner was a large man and an easy bust, and because of various quotas police officers were given, he was often arrested for his petty crimes. He didn’t get worked up when he was arrested for actually committing a crime, but they harassed him when he’d just be doing his laundry at the laundry mat or something, too.

The man who took the famous video of Garner was also harassed endlessly after the video went viral the world over. Some of the minor crimes he did commit, but many of the busts were entirely fabricated to get him to cop to a plea.

The descriptions of police brutality are hard to read. What this book is more concerned about, though, are things like why the prosecuting attorney Dan Donovan brought in 50 witnesses and yet failed to bring an indictment against the officer who did the illegal chokehold. (Daniel Pantaleo is still a police officer despite numerous abuse allegations, including completely unfounded strip searches conducted on the street in broad daylight.) Moreover, countless lawyers tried to get the grand jury information unsealed, to no avail. What did they have to hide? Donovan successfully ran as a Republican to fill the seat by congressman Michael Grimm, who’d been indicted on twenty federal counts. You may remember him as the lovely man who told a reporter (while a TV crew was filming) that he’d throw him over the balcony.

The reason the Garner case made so much news is because it was all caught on video. “Absent the cellphone videos, in other words, nobody would like have heard how Eric Garner really died.” But in this way his case was the exception.

I was shocked to hear all the obstacles a person has to go through to get a substantiated abuse charge against a police officer. All we, the public, ever hear about are the families who get million-dollar settlements. They represent virtually none of the cases actually alleged.

This is an important book about race and policing—not just individual police officers but the system as a whole. I could quote huge passages from this book. Highly recommend.

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