Spike Lee splices footage of Eric Garner’s death with Radio Raheem’s in ‘Do the Right Thing’


Director Spike Lee released a video Monday on Instagram and YouTube, editing together footage of the recent death of Eric Garner with the death of fictional character Radio Raheem in one of his movies, “Do the Right Thing,” presumably to illustrate how little has changed since the movie’s 1989 release.

Garner is the Staten Island father of six who died Thursday after a New York police officer restrained him in a chokehold. His death was captured on video, which has since gone viral. In it, he can be heard telling officers “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.” A different video depicted a motionless Garner, who was asthmatic, on the ground with police standing over his 6-foot-5, 350-pound body as they waited for EMTs.

Daniel Pantaleo, the officer in the video who appears to put Garner in the chokehold, was stripped of his badge and gun and placed on desk duty. The two EMTs and two paramedics who responded to the Garner call have been suspended without pay because they neglected to help Garner while he was unconscious, according to video of the situation. The EMT can be seen checking Garner’s pulse, but a source told the New York Post that she should have placed Garner on a stretcher immediately and checked his breathing passages. He was never given an oxygen mask, or even checked with a stethoscope.

In Lee’s film, Raheem is killed while being restrained in a chokehold by an NYPD officer. Raheem’s death was actually inspired by the 1983 death of a real man, Michael Stewart, a 25-year old graffiti artist who died 13 days after a police officer placed him in a chokehold and asphyxiated him. Stewart was taken to the hospital in a coma and never woke up. In “Do the Right Thing,” when Raheem is killed, a voice in the crowd says, “They did it again, just like Michael Stewart.”

Three of the officers in the Stewart case were indicted for criminally negligent homicide, assault and perjury after the city’s medical examiner found Stewart had been strangled. Another three were charged with perjury. All were acquitted.

New York City police officers are not permitted to use chokeholds.

Because this year marks the 25th anniversary of the release of Lee’s seminal work, it’s been flecked with celebrations, screenings and discussions that reflect on the message of “Do the Right Thing” and its place in American culture and history. The Obamas went to see “Do the Right Thing” on their first date, and they commemorated the anniversary with a video message to Lee that was shown before a recent screening at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where Lee was introduced by Academy of Motion Picture Arts president Cheryl Boone Issacs.

“Spike, thank you for helping me impress Michelle, and thank you for telling a powerful story,” the president said. “Today, I’ve got a few more gray hairs than I did back in 1989. You don’t look like Mookie anymore. But ‘Do the Right Thing’ still holds up a mirror to our society, and it makes us laugh, and think and challenges all of us to see ourselves in one another.”

The sharp-tongued director posted this image on his Instagram feed Monday:

The caption reads: “Brother Eric Garner No Longer Breathes Courtesy Of Banned NYPD Chokehold. Rest In Power.”

 

h/t Shadow and Act

 

Soraya Nadia McDonald covers arts, entertainment and culture for the Washington Post with a focus on race and gender issues.
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