Story highlights

Grand Jury decides not to indict a police officer in the choking death of Eric Garner

Mel Robbins: This is outrageous, given what happened to Garner

She says if we care about justice, we should reconsider the case

Robbins: Grand juries are not the proper tool to decide if police have committed crimes

Editor’s Note: Mel Robbins is a CNN commentator and legal analyst. She is the founder of, a news and entertainment site for women, and author of “Stop Saying You’re Fine,” about managing change. She speaks on leadership around the world and in 2014 was named outstanding news talk radio host by the Gracie Awards. Follow her on Twitter @melrobbins. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

CNN —  

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

The facts in this case are not the same as Ferguson – they’re scarier.

In July, Garner, an unarmed father of six children, had just helped break up a fight when police officers arrived and surrounded him. They accused him of selling untaxed cigarettes and tried to arrest him.

Mel Robbins

Garner and the officers soon got into an argument. The officers escalated the situation and moved in on Garner. Garner put his hands up, and then one officer grabbed him from behind in a chokehold, which is banned by the NYPD.

Garner went down, and then it’s a pile-on. We know all this because one of Garner’s friends caught the entire incident on a phone. The video footage is very hard to watch. You can see multiple officers on Garner. One officer pressed Garner’s face into the ground. The whole time, the chokehold remained tight. Garner said repeatedly that he “can’t breath” before dying soon after. The medical examiner ruled it a homicide by choking.

Let me repeat the facts. The police used a banned chokehold, on an unarmed man who said he couldn’t breath many times, and the medical examiner ruled it a homicide. And it was all caught on video tape. What more do you need? I’m not saying the cop is guilty of murder, but shouldn’t he face a jury trial and a full examination of the facts to determine if there was excessive force?

If a chokehold is banned by the NYPD, how is it reasonable force to use one? They banned it because it could kill someone. Isn’t it “excessive” by definition and by law to end the argument with Garner by killing him with a banned procedure?

For those of you arguing that Garner was “resisting arrest” – do you really want to live in a country where you could get choked to death if you question why the police officers are targeting you?

Do you want to live in a country where your car window will be broken and you will be Tasered in front of your kids if you ask calmly for an explanation as to why you need to step out of the car?

Or shot, as you reach into your car for the wallet so you can show the officer your ID?

Would it surprise you to learn that the police reports on Garner’s death failed to mention the chokehold? It doesn’t surprise me – why would the police self-report?

Furthermore, grand juries are not the proper tool to determine whether police have committed crimes in the line of duty. Ironically, grand juries were created by our founding fathers to PROTECT us from overzealous prosecution by the government. But it has become clear that they’ve become a tool that has failed to protect citizens from overzealous police.

I thought body cameras would help in these types of cases. After the Eric Garner decision, I’m not so sure. A former police officer said to Erin Burnett on CNN that the lesson in this is that people need to “comply with the police.” Actually, the real lesson here is that we need a major change. We need an independent body, perhaps run by the Attorney General’s Office, to be in charge of every police shooting investigation.

Every time we see a grand jury return no indictment, it’s not only a blow to the victims and their families, it’s a blow to the entire justice system. It’s a blow to the vast majority of amazing police officers that suit up and put their lives on the line every day and follow the rules. It’s a blow to the police departments that have worked so hard to foster a trusting partnership with the communities that they police. It’s a blow to the communities that rely on police to keep them safe. It’s a blow to the justice system, because with every one of these announcements, we lose tremendous faith and confidence in the system that was designed to protect us.

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