Saturday, December 20, 2014

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NY1's Grace Rauh reports from Rome, where Mayor Bill de Blasio is vacationing with his family.

NY1 ItCH: A Chokehold that Reaches All the Way to Italy

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As the de Blasio family is getting some R&R in Italy, things are still simmering on Staten Island, four days after a police officer apparently used an illegal – and fatal – chokehold on Eric Garner, a local man who was said to be illegally selling cigarettes.

The mayor delayed his vacation for a day so he could talk to community leaders and suss out a very bad situation. The officer who choked Garner, has been placed on modified duty while four EMS workers who didn't exactly rush to his assistance have also been taken off the street.

The video of the incident is chilling and infuriating – a real-life version of "Do the Right Thing's" Radio Raheem being taken down by the NYPD. It's impossible to see how anyone could spin that tape into an explanation that could justify the behavior of the NYPD on the scene. If a person resists being arrested, they shouldn't end up in a body bag. Almost as awful as the immediate confrontation is the blasé attitudes of the various uniformed city workers as Garner lies unconscious on the sidewalk while his life ebbs out of his body. This is New York at its unfinest.

It's not clear what the mayor can say or do in the coming days about this case -- from Italy or in New York -- that he didn't already try to express on Friday afternoon when he held a short and impassioned press conference with Police Commissioner Bill Bratton in which he called Garner's death "a terrible tragedy."

The investigation will likely take several twists and turns in the coming weeks but the one thing that's already remarkable to me is how much the climate of the city has changed over the last 25 years in the face of an incident in which an African-American resident died after being choked by a white police officer. In the 1980s, a case like this would have threatened to tear apart New york and burn like Tom Wolfe's great "Bonfire of the Vanities." While there is still outrage today, it seems focused and contained.

So as de Blasio sips an espresso or enjoys a gelato this week, he should take a moment to contemplate just how far the city has come in a relatively short amount of time – and remember that things didn't improve across the five boroughs accidentally. If need be, there's nothing wrong with cutting a vacation short if it means dealing with a disturbing case that is roiling many residents. After all, Italy isn't going anywhere.

Bob Hardt

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