I Cant Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street
by Matt Taibbi
Spiegel & Grau, 2017
336 pp.; $28.00
With the title, I Can't Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street, every American knows the subject of Matt Taibbi's new book: the July 17, 2014, murder of Eric Garner at the hands of the New York City Police Department. After reading a few of the book's pages, however, one begins to see that it's not only about Eric Garner as victim but Eric Garner as human being. We are familiarized with his flaws as well as his virtues, and how the two were often interrelated.
In reading I Can't Breathe, we come to understand Eric Garner in context. We see the impact that billion-dollar real estate developments have on his personal life. We see a legal system bureaucratically fortified against the forces of justice and fair play. We see a police-state mindset--where a police department's role gradually transitioned from apprehending law-breakers to imposing societal order--creep into the American ethos.
Finally, we see the conclusion Taibbi reaches by probing Eric Garner's story: that we live in a nation afraid to show its face. Frightened as much of what it might see as what its face might show. That the success of Trumpism wasn't based on the personality or character of its figurehead but on a collection of American sensibilities about anxiety, crisis, and race.
Eric Garner was a man deeply attentive to what many might consider a retrograde, even depraved, conception of manhood. He, Taibbi writes, "tried to impose a patriarchal ideal onto his marriage that never quite existed in his childhood. He wanted to be the family breadwinner, which meant he didn't want his wife working outside the home."
You'd find him standing on the streets day and night--first selling crack cocaine, then untaxed cigarettes. He'd get so exhausted working that he'd fall asleep standing up. His feet caused him a lot of pain--he suffered from diabetes--but he refused to buy himself new shoes. All the money he earned went to his wife and children. What was left over after buying fresh school clothes went into hiding for when he was sent to jail and his family would lose his illegal income for months at a time.
The neighborhood he and his wife Esaw lived in was too dangerous for trick-or-treating, so they'd buy candy at the store and have their kids go around the apartment pretending they were going from home to home. After years of Garner going in and out of prison--he had over thirty arrests and...