Jeneé Osterheldt

Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice: It is up to us to stop the insanity

Protesters gathered in Times Square on Wednesday after a grand jury decided not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner.
Protesters gathered in Times Square on Wednesday after a grand jury decided not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner. The Associated Press

A grand jury decided not to indict the New York officer who choked Eric Garner, and the nation gasped for air.

I heard someone say, “Now that’s where they should riot, instead of Ferguson.” And I cried.

What she and so many people don’t get is that the uprising has never been about one name, one case or one city.

That should be clear now that the grand jury didn’t indict Darren Wilson, the Ferguson officer who shot 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Or now that we know Akai Gurley was shot in the stairwell of his apartment because an NYPD rookie had jitters. That cop let Gurley bleed out for over six minutes before he called for help. He even texted his union rep first. He wasn’t authorized to police that stairwell. As with Garner’s death, the medical examiner ruled it a homicide; will the jury indict?

Was the point not made when it took a Cleveland cop only two seconds to jump out of his cruiser and shoot 12-year-old Tamir Rice dead? A cop whom we now know has a history of being emotionally immature and distracted. The Justice Department just released a report showing that Cleveland police excessively use guns, Tasers, pepper spray and their fists. We saw the video. Two seconds. Will justice be served?

Maybe not. We all saw a horde of cops tackle Eric Garner while one of them put him in a chokehold and pulled him to the ground. We heard him yell, over and over, “I can’t breathe.”


President Barack Obama asked Congress to approve $263 million for police body cameras and training. Eric Garner’s death was recorded on a friend’s cellphone video. But a jury watched that and saw no reason to indict. Apparently, a black man in America is disposable.

Cameras alone are not the way to solve police brutality or race relations in America.

And that is why there is a domino effect of protests across the country. The system is broken. The government wants to put Band-Aids on it. Until this problem is taken seriously, investigated nationwide thoroughly, we will continue to shut down tunnels and take over events with sit-ins and die-ins and chant as loud as possible, “Black lives matter!”

This was not supposed to be my generation’s fight. Our parents and grandparents and those before them fought so that we could have our civil rights, our equality and freedom. But the battle is not over. We cannot act as if the stories of Oscar Grant and Amadou Diallo are rare. That footage we saw of Rodney King when I was a kid? It’s time to wake up.

We can no longer deny that there is a bias when it comes to how black people are treated by police, by the government, by the headlines. I understand there are good cops out there, just as I understand not every black man stopped by an officer is an angel. But you shouldn’t have to be an angel to stay alive. When being stopped by police while black, making it to the police station instead of a body bag should not be a luxury.

Have you seen the #crimingwhilewhite hashtag? White privilege is real. People share stories of committing crimes and getting a pass from cops.

It’s not enough to simply be aware of the double standard. Don’t just look at your television and be outraged or heartbroken. This is not a black fight, a white fight or a cop fight. This has to be everybody’s fight for things to change for the better.

Understanding politics and turning out in big numbers to vote are just as important as the protests.

I appreciate the move for body cameras. But we need real dedication to nurturing better police-community relations. We need a dedicated task force. We need diverse police departments and local governments. Demand change. Make change.

I said before that Michael Brown’s killing and that ruling ripped a scab wide open, and we’re bleeding. Now, in the wake of the Eric Garner decision, the blood is filling our lungs.

We can’t breathe.

To reach Jeneé Osterheldt, call 816-234-4380 or email “Like” her page on Facebook and never miss a column. On Twitter @jeneeinkc.