Controversial court rulings are often followed by protests. Or confrontation. Or social unrest. This week's decision by a grand jury not to indict a New York City police officer in the death of a Staten Island man added an unexpected entry to the list: rare bipartisan consensus.
Opinions on a grand jury's decision not to bring charges against a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager were largely split along party lines. Republicans generally approved the decision, while many Democrats did not.
The political reaction to a New York grand jury's decision not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner, who died after the officer put him in a choke hold, has resulted in a rare consensus, with both conservatives and liberals reacting with outrage to the decision.
"There is no excuse that I can think of for choking a man to death for selling illegal cigarettes," wrote Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. "This is someone being choked to death. We have it on video with the man pleading for his life. There is no excuse for that I can even contemplate or imagine right now."
Garner, who died July 17, was being arrested for allegedly selling loose cigarettes on Staten Island. An officer, Daniel Pantaleo, used a chokehold to bring Garner down. His actions were caught on a video, with Garner repeatedly saying, "I can't breathe." He later died, and a medical examiner determined the chokehold and compression to Garner's chest had caused his death, which was ruled a homicide. Pantaleo told the grand jury that he had used a wrestling move and did not meant to cause Garner harm. The Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into Garner's death.
So why has this case sparked outrage among some conservatives?
First, there's the video evidence -- the dramatic footage showing Garner telling police that he cannot breathe.
"From looking at the video, the grand jury’s decision here is totally incomprehensible," conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer said on FOX News Monday.
Krauthammer also pointed to another source of conservative dissatisfaction with the case. "[Garner] was selling loose cigarettes, which is in and of itself almost absurd that somebody has to die over that."
Conservatives oppose what they see as government over-regulation, and excessive taxation -- and to many of them, the Garner case represents both. More than a few on the right say the sale of loose, untaxed cigarettes should not be a crime, pointing to New York's extremely high cigarette tax, which has driven a sizable chunk of the market underground. New York City increased penalties for selling loose and untaxed tobacco earlier this year.
— Dana Loesch (@DLoesch) December 3, 2014
The reaction on Capitol Hill has also been strikingly similar from many on both sides of the aisle.
Sen. Rand Paul, speaking on "Hardball" Tuesday, said he was "horrified" by the video. But, as he did following the Ferguson decision, he placed much of the blame on politicians: those who enacted New York's high cigarette tax, and others who directed police to arrest those selling individual, tax-free cigarettes.
On Wednesday he told CNN he was "shocked" by the grand jury's decision in New York.
"I don't think it's justified what the police did, but I also think it's bad policy that puts the police in an untenable position. The War on Drugs" -- which he pointed to in the Michael Brown case as well -- "does that, and so does an erroneous and excessive tax policy as well," he said.
Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-Wash.), the House's fourth-ranking Republican, said she thinks the body should hold hearings into Garner's death. “We all have a lot of serious questions that need to be addressed and we need to understand what happened, why this decision was made,” she said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Thursday. "I would call for the House to have those hearings so that we can better understand. But we need to take action, appropriate action, making sure our local law enforcement have the training, that they're using appropriate force, which — I think we all recognize these are tragedies and it has raised a lot of questions."
Sean Davis at conservative publication The Federalist wrote, "The grand jury’s decision not to bring any charges against the officer who killed Garner is inexplicable. It defies reason. It makes no sense."
New York's Democratic congressional delegation railed against the decision.
"The decision by a grand jury not to indict in the death of Eric Garner is a miscarriage of justice, it’s an outrage it’s a disgrace, it’s a blow to our democracy, and it should shock the conscience of every single American who cares about justice and fair play," Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said.
Noah Rothman, associate editor at hotair.com, noted the strikingly similar reactions coming from across the political spectrum -- at least for now.
This is one of those moments where left and right could unite. Few seem comfortable with this outcome. Unless recriminations start flying. — Noah Rothman (@NoahCRothman) December 3, 2014