Eric Garner: Mixed Opinions

Loose Cigarettes, Public Safety, And The NYPD

By Fred Alvarez

On July 17 Eric Garner, a 43-year-old father of six from Port Richmond, Staten Island, verbally resisted arrest in Tompkinsville. The police insist that the altercation wouldn’t have escalated if Garner hadn’t resisted the officers demands. They’ve alleged he was a criminal. That crime being the sale of untaxed loose cigarettes.

Patrick Lynch and the PBA inferred that instead of a chokehold, Garner died due to a “lack of respect” for authorities.

As many media outlets demonize Eric Garner’s crime of selling untaxed cigarettes, loose cigarette transactions here on campus continue to be a common practice among smokers.

When seven CSI students (three smokers and four non-smokers) responded to a questionnaire asking if they’d ever witnessed or played a role in the sales of untaxed cigarettes on campus, six out of seven respondents said they had witnessed such activity more than once.

When junior business major, and smoker, John-Paul Keiser, was asked if he had ever purchased or sold a loose cigarette, he chuckled, and responded saying “Obviously I have. I smoke.”

Given the amount of times this happens does a man deserve to die for it? Despite this fact, opinions about the incident vary from student to student.

“He was a big guy and he didn’t want to get arrested,” said Brian Sills, a senior biology major at CSI, who agrees with Mr. Lynch and the PBA. “What were they supposed to do? Just ask him nicely?”

Although some students agree with the way the police handled the situation, others were not so convinced.

“[Eric Garner] died because he was not detained the proper way,” says Trevor Spisto, a junior history major that disagrees with the way police handled the situation. “He was put in a chokehold and it killed him. The police are breaking their own rules and it’s scary.”

Considering the commonality of cigarette sales among CSI’s smoking community along with the CUNY-wide tobacco ban, CSI students are not prone to the same type of treatment as Eric Garner.

All six of the students who said they’ve witnessed cigarette sales on campus also said that they never witnessed anyone undergo prosecution for it or undergo unnecessary force from public Safety.

Does this mean that CSI’s Public Safety Department doesn’t believe paying any mind to the safety and well being of the students depends on forcefully policing the crime of selling untaxed loose cigarettes?

CSI’s Code of Conduct, found in the Public Safety Annual Security Report on the CSI website, lists rules and regulations, along with penalties, for specific offenses on campus.

Burglary, sexual misconduct, and sales of alcohol or controlled substances were among the infractions listed. Although the report said that all who “violate New York State or Federal laws…will be subject to arrest”, it does not appear that policing cigarette sales is one of Public Safety’s top priorities.

Public Safety declined the Banner’s requests for comment.

Even though Public Safety does not forcefully police cigarette sales like the NYPD, they tend to the safety of students and faculty through policies meant to protect the well being of everyone on campus. Selling cigarettes are obviously not a terrorist offense.

Considering that the only victim of Eric Garner’s crime is the state losing a few cents in sales tax and that the crime of selling untaxed cigarettes is a commonality among all smokers, was the amount of force used on Eric Garner truly necessary?


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