“Please just leave me alone” – these final words of Eric Garner contain much more than a plaintive request. They embody the spirit of his final actions: independence, resistance, and finally resignation. Eric Garner exited this world exhibiting the universally lauded virtue of willing self-sacrifice in pursuit of defending one’s liberty. We have a word for that: hero. Indeed, throughout human history the traits of independence, resistance to tyranny and self-sacrifice are the very qualities universally held in highest regard. But, because Eric chose to tilt his lance at the windmill of the state, that monstrosity we have been fooled into believing serves our interests, his deeds are portrayed as simply foolish. But make no mistake; Eric is every bit as courageous as any of history’s venerated heroes.
He declared his independence from the state, not with fanfare or proclamations but by living and acting as though it did not exist. Some libertarians pay lip service to living this way, but Eric actually did it, courageously, out in the open, and with no shame. Eric was no “libertarian” per se, but one does not need to identify as one to desire to live their life free of nettlesome busybodies. That instinct is natural; it is the state that beats it out of many of us. The state’s petty rules concerning what products may be sold, for how much, and who is “authorized” to make such sales were as relevant to him as the rules of hopscotch are to anyone walking on a sidewalk. It’s not that he was unaware of the “law” concerning the sale of untaxed cigarettes, it’s that he rightly recognized it as being inimical to the rights of Everyman to earn a living. No one should be required to ask for permission to earn a living. But, anyone who stands up for their rights will necessarily distinguishes themselves from a crowd all too eager to surrender theirs. The man who does so makes himself a target.
Now, being a target, Eric was set upon by the forces of the state, wending their way through the city as phagocytes travel the bloodstream, seeking to engulf and remove that which does not belong. The state will not long suffer the independent man. In the video we learn this was not Eric’s first encounter with the police. We see a man who is simply weary of the constant harassment. So on this fateful day he took a stand and resisted in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr, Mahatma Gandhi or the Freedom Riders; non-violently. He did not fight back; he simply stood and refused to submit. It seems that civil disobedience against racist laws of the state is celebrated whereas civil disobedience against the authority of the state itself is frowned upon. Strange indeed, given that it is this state authority that gave those old laws their teeth.
Eric’s resistance served as a metaphor for state action against any citizen. He starts out strong and willful as cop after cop attempts to subdue him, but each is repelled by his sheer mass, like ants attacking an elephant. Eventually, even the strongest of us, like an elephant, will succumb to the attack of so many Lilliputians. And in the end Eric was resigned to his fate, having the tiger by the tail as it were. He could either be choked to death while laying prone and offering no resistance, or he could fight back and most assuredly be shot dead. Literally damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
In the end the state does the only thing it can do to those that might resist its authority: it wields deadly force until that “threat” to its authority submits or is eliminated (and if submission accidentally results in elimination so much the better for the state). So to those that believe the state is not a violent entity merely because they do not daily witness such violence on their front lawn, then look no further than what happened to Eric Garner to see the falsity of this belief. This, this is what happens to anyone that resists. Prisons also lack overt daily instances of police violence, but that doesn’t mean the very real threat of it is not the thing that keeps the inmates in line. So too is it with the state. Resistance is futile. You have already been assimilated.