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Written by Corinne

“I Can’t Breathe”

Is eliminating judgement possible? Realistically, it isn’t. Throughout time, forms of judgment have created a variety of questions that are extremely difficult to answer. A large form of these judgements involve racism. The reason it is so difficult to give a clear solution, or answer, to these cruel situations is because most of the time there is no proof to be shown of these thoughts or actions. It’s tough to show evidence that someone is acting upon something based off racial influence, or how they perceive someone. In the United States, many types of judgment have led to harsh consequences that have had devastating results. Important figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks have moved America along and have succeeded to create a less racist country. Racism has not completely vanished, though, it is still a work in progress. Its a strenuous concept because of the debatable definition and understanding of the term, racism. Throughout history, these events have taken place many times, and occur even in the present. It may relate to you more than you would have thought.

Eric Garner, an African American male, was killed on July 17, 2014, in Staten Island, New York. He was held in a chokehold for 19 seconds. While gasping for breath he said “I can’t breathe” 11 times, which the police officers considered a false statement since he was able to speak. Originally Garner was under suspicion of selling cigarettes without proper tax stamps. His previous criminal records, which included thirty arrests, made all the more reason for the officers to believe Garner was still apart of illegal activity. Since his past had included these prior events, the officers chose not to listen to his plea for innocence. He had expressed to the police that he was tired of being harassed. Garner asked the officers to leave him alone. This, as well as him swatting away the officers hands when they attempted to arrest him, led the officers to think that he was resisting arrest. Officer Pantaleo, a caucasian police officer who had been accused of false arrest and had two civil rights lawsuits prior, took action. He put Garner into a chokehold while other officers took him to the ground, which later made him pass out. Since Garner was breathing on his own, the police did not perform any CPR claiming it would have been inappropriate. Medics who examined Garner, concluded that he was killed by neck compression as well as prior conditions that contributed to his death. The police officers involved had minor consequences like desk duty and suspension. The grand jury decided against severe results for Pantaleo, the main officer involved. After this decision, many peaceful protests broke out saying “there is no justification.” On August 23, over 2500 people participated in the March along Bay street, where Garner died. The outbreaks of protests have come about because of many lingering problems that are far beyond the one case of unjust action.

Western and Eastern philosophers have enquired several different definitions over countless years of what justice really is. Every person has a right to their own opinions of what is just and what is unjust. Philosophers have come up with their own definitions of justice. For example, western philosopher Plato believed that justice is what it does as well as what is just is what creates balance. In contrast, eastern philosopher Hammurabi defines justice as what it does, like Plato, but also believes that what is just is what is equal. Some other western philosophers are Aristotle, who believes justice can be defined as what it is as well as Augustine, who believes that justice is what it results in. Hobbes's has a similar viewpoint as Plato, he thinks that justice is what it does but it’s also what is necessary in order to maintain social order. Kant, like Hobbes's and Plato, believes that justice can be defined as what justice does do as well as what it does not do. It is respecting others freedoms and its just as long as it doesn’t not violates others freedom. A couple examples of other eastern philosophers points of view is Confucius, who sees justice as what the just do, what is just is what is earned. Lao Tzu believes that justice is a process and is below goodness and kindness. Both Gautama and Gandhi define justice by relationship. Gautama sees justice as a cause and effect, as parts of a cycle, while Gandhi sees it as a connection which is restored by just action. Viewpoints about what justice is defined as change all around the world, by person, place, and background.

Up until social justice this year, I have not thought twice about things like what justice is as well as the fact that equality and equity are so different. I didnt know that equality was making everything equal while equity is making everyone able to have the same opportunities, so that no disadvantages can get in the way. I honestly thought that they were the same thing. Well, since joining social justice i’ve expanded what usually crosses my mind and i’ve started to question things that last year, I would have been afraid to think. An example of one of these unordinary ‘out of the box’ questions is, what is just and what is unjust? Personally, I view justice as equity, or making everyone have equal opportunities. The reason i’ve been able to have such a clear idea of what i see as just is because of the social justice pathway where we discuss all of the possibilities that I can use to clarify my now clear definition. I’ve been able to apply my definition of justice to current events like the Eric Garner case.

Some may see the Eric Garner case as just, while others see it as unjust. Depending on individuals definitions of what justice is, the case can be seen in either way. To me, I believe that it was a severe case of injustice. Eric Garner was an African American male who yes, had a previous criminal record, but was that really a reason for him to be killed? Killing a man without a fair trial is very unjust. Eric Garner may have not been ‘a model citizen’ but he posed no threat to any of the civilians nor the officers so putting him into a chokehold was not necessary. Many have brought up the question of if race had to do with the turnout of the situation. Race has been a big factor in America for quite some time and protests have broken out about the injustice that causes.  The peaceful protests have included posters and chants saying things like “we can’t breathe” or “we will not go back.” Looking at the facts from the Eric Garner case provides evidence that Eric Garner was not posing a threat to anyone and forcing him into a chokehold which led to his death can be considered unjust. Those facts along with the potential of racism being involved should bring greater consequences for those responsible. Justice can be defined many ways, but for me justice is equity and this was an example of unjust treatment.

Overall, justice can be seen from many different viewpoints depending on many factors. There isn’t one definition of justice because its a term of such importance and is left open for interpretation. The Eric Garner case was an example of unjust action because he did not get equal treatment. His past, whether that was his previous experiences or his race, led the officers to believe that he had different intentions that could possibly be threatening. It is not known what went through the officers heads but if racism was involved that makes the case all the more unjust. Society has many lingering problems that may be hard to fix, one of those being judgement that can lead to unjust actions.