Radio host extraordinaire Rush Limbaugh has turned his attention toward one of the least noticed but arguably most relevant circumstances involving the death of Eric Garner after his arrest in July by New York City police.
A Staten Island grand jury earlier this week decided against indicting the police officer alleged to have used a chokehold on Garner when he was arrested, a procedure banned by the city's police but reportedly allowed by state law. The grand jury's decision, coming fast on the heels of a similar conclusion by a grand jury convened after the shooting death of an 18-year-old black male by a white police officer last August in Ferguson, Mo., further exacerbated racial tensions in New York City and across the nation.
Why did NYC police send so many officers to arrest a single person selling cigarettes, albeit illegally, Limbaugh asks. Perhaps it has something to do with what the city is losing as a result -- tax revenue (audio) --
So the city of New York, all out of shape that its $13-per-pack taxes are not being collected due to the black market for cigarettes that's sprung up due to all of these taxes. So what do they then do? They mandate -- they mandate -- they call the police commissioner and they tell him, you get your members of the force locked and loaded on this. I want people arrested, I want examples made, I want to get these black-market cigarettes off the street, I want to get 'em out of town, and anybody selling them I want deal with.
And so the cops hit the streets with their marching orders and on the way to catching the guy selling loosies (individual cigarettes), they have to probably pass by some people, you know, who knows doing what with whatever it is, crack or marijuana or whatever, 'cause they're hellbent on getting these black market guys out -- because that is our precious tax revenue. So Eric Garner, with everything else that's involved here, whatever else happened here, we have a guy who died over a tax collection issue but nobody will say that out loud. We have a poor guy who died because of a tax collection issue.
And by the way, over here is Al Sharpton who somehow still owes the feds over $4 million in back taxes and nobody's making a mad dash to collect from him. But this poor guy, trying to eke out a living in Manhattan, well, east Staten Island, selling loosies, single cigarettes -- did you see the number of cops that descended on this guy?! About five or six cops on a guy selling loosies?! On a guy selling cigarettes?! What kind of orders must these cops be under? I guarantee you, I don't care what, human nature, you see somebody smoking a cigarette, come on, you keep driving, you keep walking, it isn't a big deal. You have to be told, you have to be under some kind of really concentrated, concerted order in order to focus so much energy and so much attention on some poor guy selling individual cigarettes.
Now, Garner left his job as a, if you can believe it, he was a horticulturist for New York City, he left that job because of his asthma so, I guarantee you, the guy's on disability of some kind, that has to be a factor. So he was doing something so that he could collect money off the books so as not to damage whatever benefit plan, series of benefit plans that he was, that he was on.
New York state, back to the taxes here, New York state imposes a tax of $4.35 a pack, that's the highest of any state, and that's on top of the local New York City tax of $1.60, which is also the highest of any city. And the mayor, de Blasio, has just ordered the police to crack down on illegal cigarettes a few weeks before the Garner incident. He did that! Now de Blasio's running around, (saying) what happened?! Gee, this is outrageous, look at all this excessive force! Well, yeah, that's what you tax collectors, somebody had to mandate, I'm not suggesting somebody told the cops to go out and kill these people but this is just, none of this, it is so out of proportion. It is so out of proportion and I'm telling you, everywhere you look where some of this stuff is happening, inexplicable stuff, who's running the show? It turns out wherever you turn, liberals are running the show.
After a commercial break, Limbaugh further clarified his claim lest anyone think he was accusing New York City cops of deliberately killing Garner for peddling smokes (audio) --
Now I don't want anybody to misunderstand me, there's a lot of nuance here and a lot of ancillary points that I'm focusing on. I'm not saying that Eric Garner was killed for selling cigarettes. He didn't die because he was selling cigarettes, untaxed or otherwise. He died because he resisted arrest.
To make matters worse, New York's steep cigarette taxes have not discouraged smoking and are hurting poor and young people the most, according to a report funded by the state's Department of Public Health.
As described by Patrick Basham and John Luik, co-authors of "The Plain Truth: Does Packaging Affect Smoking," in an October 2012 op-ed in the New York Post, researchers scrutinized more than 13,000 people to gauge the effects of high cigarette taxes on people of varying incomes. Low-income smokers, those earning less than $30,000 annually, spent an average of 23.6 percent of family income on cigarettes, more than double the 11.6 percent in 2004. Smokers in families earning more than $60,000 a year spent just 2.2 percent of their income on cigarettes, Research Triangle Institute researchers found.
"Despite New York's several butt-tax hikes over the past decade, the study found no decline in smoking among low-income smokers," Basham and Luik wrote. They cite greater public awareness of the health risks from smoking as leading to a gradual decline in cigarette use over recent decades, but "overwhelmingly" this has occurred among more health conscious middle- and upper-class people.
Chief among the reasons they cite for higher taxes not reducing smoking -- the illicit trade that inevitably results, "especially among the poor."