If you’re still wondering how officer Daniel Pantaleo wasn’t indicted for the killing of Eric Garner—even though a clear majority of 64 percent of New Yorkers wanted criminal charges brought against the cop—consider this: He wasn’t really killed in New York City.
Garner was killed in Staten Island, an island off the coast of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Yes, it is technically one of NYC’s five boroughs, but the residents themselves will tell you it’s a different place entirely from the other four.
Staten Island has always been unique. It’s the smallest borough, most geographically remote, most white, most conservative, and has historically been home to a disproportionately large number of police officers.
This is the most pro-police corner in the city by a significant margin. And the grand jury that declined to bring charges against Pantaleo was made up entirely of these same Staten Island adults, whose opinions on police stand so starkly in contrast with the rest of New York City.
To Staten Islanders, the borough where Eric Garner was killed and the county where the grand jury was selected, the incident looked very different. Just 41 percent of residents wanted charges brought, according to Quinnipiac University polls.
It’s no surprise, then, that New York’s self-described “forgotten borough” has extremely high support for police officers.
Some 79 percent of Staten Island residents approve of the way the NYPD does its job compared to around 50 percent in the rest of New York, according to Quinnipiac. Only 16 percent of Staten Islanders disapprove, while that number reaches as high as 48 percent in Brooklyn and the Bronx.
More than half of all Staten Islanders think New York’s police treat all races the same, a number well above the 31 percent citywide average.
When asked if police brutality is a “very serious problem” in New York, 16 percent of Staten Islanders said yes, while that number more than doubled in the rest of the city.
A secession movement has lived on in Staten Island for decades that calls for the borough to leave New York City, a metropolis that it stands apart from in many ways ideologically and that has, at times, ignored Staten Island’s resident’s needs and wants. The movement to leave the city—hence the “island off the coast of New York” remark—has at times shaped city politics significantly since the 1990s.
“There’s always the possibility, Staten Island being Staten Island, that they won’t indict,” civil rights lawyer Joel Berger said immediately after Garner was killed.
In the eyes of many New Yorkers, this is yet another case of “Staten Island being Staten Island.”
Photo by Patrick Howell O’Neill