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The Grand Jury In The Eric Garner Chokehold Case Was Especially Unlikely To Indict

A Staten Island grand jury has voted not to indict a New York Police Department officer in the killing of Eric Garner, who died after being put in a chokehold by the officer. Grand juries, which almost always vote to indict, commonly decline to do so in cases that involve police officers. But there’s another reason the Staten Island grand jury’s decision isn’t surprising: the borough’s politics.

Staten Island residents are particularly sympathetic to the NYPD compared to New York’s other boroughs, and a majority of residents there think the officer should not have been charged.

In an average of Quinnipiac University polls taken in August and November, only 41 percent of Staten Island residents supported bringing charges against Officer Daniel Pantaleo (the margin of error on these combined subsamples is 7 percentage points). In New York overall, 64 percent approved of criminal charges. Staten Island isn’t like the rest of the city.

Half of Staten Islanders thought it was “understandable that the police could have acted” the way they did in the Garner case, compared to 43 percent who said there was “no excuse.” Again, that’s far lower than in the rest of the city, where 66 percent of residents indicated to pollsters that there was “no excuse.”

And while much of the debate about Garner’s death and the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, has centered on race — both Garner and Brown were unarmed and black — polls show Staten Islanders think police treat both races equally. Almost 60 percent of Staten Islanders, on average, said police treat both races the same, according to Quinnipiac’s surveys. Only 31 percent of all New Yorkers felt the same way. (Staten Island’s adult citizen population — the group from which the grand jury was drawn — is almost 70 percent non-Hispanic white; New York overall is majority non-white).

More than 75 percent of Staten Islanders approve of the job the police do, compared to just 52 percent of all New Yorkers.

Had this trial been held in any other borough, the pool of potential grand jurors would have been less favorable to the NYPD.

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.