Lawmakers and pundits on both sides of the aisle have expressed outrage over a grand jury’s decision in Staten Island not to indict a police officer who was caught on video tape choking and ultimately killing Eric Garner on July 17. The 43-year-old Garner, who was unarmed, died after officer Daniel Pantaleo and other members of the NYPD attempted to arrest Garner for selling untaxed cigarettes.
Appearing on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews on Wednesday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) — a likely GOP presidential candidate in 2016 — admitted that video footage of the arrest was horrifying, before launching into a detailed critique of cigarette taxes. Paul also appeared to blame politicians who support taxing tobacco products for Garner’s death.
“I think it is hard not to watch that video of him saying ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe’ and not be horrified by it,” Paul said. “I think it is important to know that some politician put a tax of $5.85 on a pack of cigarettes so that driven cigarettes underground by making them so expensive. But then some politician also had to direct the police say, ‘hey we want you arresting people for selling a loose cigarette.’ For someone to die over breaking that law, there is really no excuse for it. But I do blame the politicians. We put our police in a difficult situation with bad laws.” Watch it:
Critics have criticized police crackdowns of minor infractions like selling “loose” cigarettes, which are part of a campaign to target minor crimes in order to prevent more serious infractions. But as the incident with Garner demonstrates, additional arrests present new opportunities for violence.
Meanwhile, cigarette taxes do play a role in improving public health. Numerous economic studies have found that cigarette taxes reduce adult and underage smoking. “The general consensus is that every 10 percent increase in the real price of cigarettes reduces overall cigarette consumption by approximately three to five percent, reduces the number of young-adult smokers by 3.5 percent, and reduces the number of kids who smoke by six or seven percent,” the Campaign For Tobacco Free Kids reports.
After a grand jury decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for shooting and killing 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, MIssouri, Paul wrote an op-ed arguing that “the failure of the War on Poverty has created a culture of violence and put police in a nearly impossible situation.”