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.