Did the Underground Economy Put Eric Garner Underground?

The woman is about 40 years old, and walks five dogs. Makes over $100 a day off the books. I asked her if she was ever hassled by the police. She looked confused by the question. “Never,” she answered.

Eric Garner was selling “loosies”__single cigarettes. Not paying taxes. When the police came to get him, he resisted__verbally.  His last words before “I can’t breathe” were “I’m minding my business, officer. Please leave me alone.”

The underground economy has grown tremendously since the economic collapse of 2008. Dog walkers. Day laborers. Stoop sale hosts. Those who hawk cold water on sweltering NYC streets.  And yes, those who sell illegal “loosies.”

While unemployment numbers are gradually improving, economists estimate that 18-19% of income nationwide is still unreported (about $2 trillion dollars annually).

Let’s face it, most of us know someone who is currently working off the books. If they started arresting everyone who was paid in cash, the jails would be overflowing within a week.

That’s what Eric Garner was__a member of the underground economy. And when the cops came by, Garner, a former Parks Department horticulturalist, asked them to just leave him alone.

“He always felt he was being targeted and harassed by officers arresting him on no basis,” his former Legal Aid attorney Christopher Pisciotta told NY1.

Garner died horribly after being put in a chokehold. But those who blame all police for the actions of a few are doing no one any favors. The problem goes deeper than that. An economy where not only jobs, but business addresses, are shipped overseas, as major corporations move their headquarters across the ocean to avoid paying billions in taxes. A Congress that belittles those out of work or on unemployment as shiftless bums. A society that clamps down on street vendors while putting no regulations on bankers who stole trillions of dollars from our economy.

Meanwhile, those selling water, food and yes, loose cigarettes on the street are regularly hassled, while the well-to-do hire maids and nannies and illegally pay them in cash, without fear of arrest.

Mayor de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bratton and Al Sharpton had a high profile meeting last week to discuss ways to avoid future Eric Garner-type situations,  with retraining of police and other noble suggestions offered.

But when this will really end?

The first time a cop puts a chokehold on a protesting middle class dog walker__or a crooked banker.

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7 Responses to Did the Underground Economy Put Eric Garner Underground?

  1. Carlos says:

    Damn good point!

    Saw this in the AM New York and had to comment!

  2. LOU RUSSO says:

    Thanks for your excellent article.
    That being said, I don’t actually believe that the cops attacked him for his petty crimes. I think he was attacked for being a 6′ 3″, 300 lb Black man, and happened to found at the site of a disturbance.

  3. Terry says:

    Mike, great article, and you made a very good point. Many people work “off the books” or hire someone “off the books”, like you said, maybe a nanny for an upper middle class family. It happens all the time and the police don’t come to their door and put them in a choke hold.

    Another point to make here. Eric Garner had just attempted to break up a fight between two other men, according to eyewitnesses. My guess is that the police had been called about that disturbance. When they got to the site, the men saw the cops coming and took off (one of the men actually said this later), leaving Eric Garner alone when the cops arrived.
    It seems that as long as they were there, they decided to hassle him about the loose cigarettes that he had been selling, so as not to waste a trip. At the most they could have issued him a summons. He was not selling crack or heroin, just loose cigarettes, a substance that is legal. Why they decide they had the need to arrest him is outrageous, and I think it’s an excuse that was made up after the fact.

  4. Alan Williams says:

    Also saw article in the AM. Have to say I am disappointed with the comparison of someone doing a legitimate job, such as a dog walker, to someone Ilegally hustling on a street corner. The dog walker, the nanny nor the house keeper are engage in a crime, so why would the police stop them from doing their job. Selling “loosies” is considered hustling and is a crime. So a police officer doing his job would stop such activity. Getting paid cash for a legal job is not criminal. Please attempt to show a lack of ignorance next time. Thank you.

    • Bob G says:

      Your comment misses Mike’s point which is that tax evasion is tolerated and even celebrated when middle class and upper middle class are involved (Dog walking, child care) but considered a crime when it is done by the poor or working class person.

  5. Vanda says:

    Such a good article, Mike! I wish you could get these thoughts to those guys in the Congress.

  6. Reva says:

    There’s no doubt in my mind about the racism and bias in the system as reflected by the police here and in Ferguson. And I totally agree with what the author wrote about the class system, as well. But I feel we are not attending to an important fact.
    Eric and Michael were not simply “innocent” victims. Certainly Eric should not have died goes without argument on my part. He had not attacked the police and posed no threat whatsoever. However, Michael had previously failed to gain access to the cop’s gun and might have been perceived as menacing the cop or presenting a danger to the community when shot. He had attacked a policeman, and apart from the fact that he was a cop, if anyone is attacked there is going to be an adrenaline reaction which would interfere with one’s subsequent behavior.
    Michael was not a “child” as Al Sharpton portrayed him; he was 6’4″ and 300 lbs! Nor did he seem one bit “gentle” as in the “gentle giant” nickname he was given. And I’m confused about whether his hands were up in surrender, whether he was facing toward or away from the cop, etc. There were too many contradictory eye-witness accounts.
    We hire cops–black/white/whatever–to arrest people who are breaking the law. Both Eric and Michael were resisting arrest. They were not simply “innocent” victims. That one may be innocent at the time of one’s arrest is a given. However one may not resist arrest – b/c if one is able to do that, then we as a community have undermined the police and made it impossible for them to capture the criminal. I’m not referring to selling untaxed cigarettes – I’m talking about dangerous people we need to take off the streets of our communities.

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