I Can't Breathe: Matt Taibbi's scorching book on the murder of Eric Garner and the system that let the killers get away with it

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2017/12/15/eric-garner-rip.html

Matt Taibbi is one of the best political writers working in the USA today, someone who can use the small, novelistic details of individuals’ lives illuminate the vast, systemic problems that poison our lives and shame our honor; his 2014 book The Divide conducts a wide-ranging inquiry into the impunity of corporate criminals and the kafkaesque injustices visited on the poor people they victimize; in I Can’t Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street, Taibbi narrows his focus to the police murder of Eric Garner, a Staten Island fixture and father, and the system that put murderers in uniform in his path.


I’m glad this site is always so understated and precise.

1 Like


This guy’s death (or rather, murder) perfectly encapsulates whats wrong with our law enforcement. They treat citizens as adversaries, escalate minor crimes into a war. It’s impossible to de-escalate situations when that’s never really an option. This guy’s death, among others, still bothers me because no meaningful police reform has occurred.


Hot take: our modern surveillance state, which makes riots of past years untenable since the actors will be taped, facial recognition’d, and rounded up have created a perverse incentive structure where authorities have absolutely no reason to respond to incidents like this.


yeah this incident was horrific… over such a a minor infraction they choked him to death

1 Like

Don’t forget “being black” and “resisting our authoritah!”


I’m kind of surprised by Doctorow’s closing comments about Matt Taibbi’s co-written book in Russia in 2000. It appears that Doctorow, like many in the US, has difficulty understanding time and context as well as the art of true forgiveness. Come on Kerry, the guy was also a heroine addict at the time and it appears that you somehow believe that it’s just a bit worse to write about fictional, brutal sexual encounters, than the actual commission of said acts. We all have a past and some not so rosy, but Taibbi’s demonstrated excellence in the field of investigative journalism, especially today, should have ensured that Taibbi’s questionable literary past should have been ignored or omitted.


indeed that really didnt mesh well with the rest of the article

I think it’s important to read Mark Ames’ own version of events:

ETA: I believe Mark Ames credibly defends himself.

I agree. But he and Ames also let that book be marketed and sold as “nonfiction.” In fact, its copyright page apparently expressly lists it as nonfiction (at least per the link in this post). So while I’m willing to accept that he and Ames haven’t actually committed any sexual assaults, I’m left wondering why I should believe any of Taibbi’s reporting on anything, given the obvious credibility problems his own defense causes.


Was Eric Garner not choked by the police then?

I don’t really see the leap from someone intentionally misrepresenting the truth on one occasion (against their own interest - admitting to sexual assault isn’t exactly flattering) to thinking that they would misrepresent the truth on all occasions.


Ames says that was the publisher’s decision. He also points out that on the title page right under the nonfiction designation, one of the listed contributors is a fictional character. Ames and Taibbi never maintained that the book was true like James Frey.

Hmm… I don’t think Cory’s review would have been complete without acknowledging that co-written book though.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting. Cory doesn’t seem to hold it against him, but since his review relies in part on Taibbi’s bona fides, it can’t be ignored either.

He says just the opposite?

I think the uncomfortable truth is that a person can understand and call out major problems in our society (i.e. racial profiling and police impunity), while contributing to other problems (i.e. glorification of sexual assault). How people balance those conflicts in their judgement of a person is an individual thing, but it doesn’t mean ignoring past wrongs when endorsing someone.

Edit: After reading the article linked below by @deathisastar, I now conclude that Taibbi is just the wrong person to be writing a book about Eric Garner.


Please read this article by a woman who was repeatedly insulted and bullied in print by Taibbi, for no valid reason:


“This is a work of nonfiction.” - Taibbi and Ames in their book about their adventures in Russia.

Source: go the the Washington Post article I linked above, find the mention of Facebook (to Taibbi’s “apology”), and scroll through the comments for a snapshot.

Doctorow is giving rapist assholes a pass.


Yes, this, exactly. I came here to post this link. Fnck Taibbi, fnck his lies, and fnck Cory for cooperating with them and passing them on so credulously. No sapient human being could listen to Taibbi’s claims that the tales of bad behavior were all lies and inventions and in any case the fault of his partner Ames, and believe them for even a moment, unless they were for some reason prejudiced to.

Cory, delete this entire sh!tty post and replace it with the Washington Post link, you’d be doing everyone a favor, especially yourself.

Mark Ames writes: " The dominant metaphors for the American colonial project in Russia were rape and prostitution; we took those metaphors as fundamental to what was really going on, and tried to make our readers as uncomfortable as possible. We approached this shocking appalling reality—with a shocking offensive satirical aesthetic. I can understand if people today, with no gut concept of what the Yeltsin-Russia context was like—and it was totally alien to America-2017, a different world —if they think it was wrong for us to approach it satirically; or if they think our satire was bad and reprehensible and immoral as satire (some of it makes me utterly cringe today). But come on, you can’t take over my mind and tell me what I was thinking and intending as a writer at that time."

This makes perfect sense. I haven’t read the book, but some articles in The Exile were funny.

Mark Ames used to be kind of a hero to me because of his excellent book Going Postal on mass shootings in the US where he’s trying to move away from the description of perpetrators of such shootings to be completely deranged; instead, he digs into the background of each case and explains how years of bullying coupled with post-Reagan poverty and insecurity (Ames really, really, really hates Ronald Reagan) could make someone do such a thing. (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/64821.Going_Postal) He also parallels such outbursts with very early slave rebellions in the US, where the slaves still lacked any ability to formulate political goals - often, they took the shape of killing the masters and escaping and was, incredibly enough described as insane, incomprehensible acts. Maybe in 300 years’ time, when wage slavery has been abolished and working people to death while bullying them and keeping them in poverty is frowned upon, people will be just as surprised to learn that postal-going wage slaves were considered insane.

Many of these insights were completely new to me.

But sigh, after reading Kathy Lally’s article I’d like to add that Ames’ and Taibbi’s Russian writings were somewhat past the acceptable - describing themselves as unsavoury boors is one thing, bullying others quite another.

1 Like

Yes - very similar thoughts. This might be a very insightful book about Eric Garner, but I won’t read it, and I don’t think Taibbi is the person to write it. My problems with Taibbi are:

(1) His work is pornographic and, I think, meant to be sexually titillating. Compare American’s pillaging of Russia in the 1990s to sexual assault (which is I think what he argues he was doing) sure, but does that really mean you need to describe raping an adolescent in the detail you did? [find the passages in Google Books - I was able to search for them]

(2) His “apologies” have been very lackluster (along with Ames’s) - blaming each other for work, claiming to not remember certain things, playing the victim (I think he had some facebook or twitter remark to the effect of “I’ve had a horrible few days”).

(3) I think Mike Cernovich of all people had an insightful (!) twitter comment basically saying that this was his comeuppance - criticizing Trump supporters for trolling twitter, but then actually Taibbi was just a big troll himself.

(4) another commentor put this better, but I fail to see how Taibbi wasn’t also one of those Americans pillaging Russia, or whatever he describes it as, in the 1990s.

(5) this book contributes to the normalization of sexual assault and having sex with minors. I understand it was meant as a joke/satire, but his writing isn’t nuanced enough. At the end of the book is any reader thinking “Oh wow, let me think more about oligarchs and capitalism gone awry in Russia?” or are they thinking “Taibbi and Ames treat others like shit.”? Genuine question - haven’t read through all of it (and won’t) but I’m guessing I would think the latter.

I’m also a bit disturbed by Cory’s use of the word “actual sexual assaults.” - I get that there is likely a hierarchy of bad things that happen to people, with death/torture at the top, and getting slightly bumped in public by someone running in the opposite direction at the bottom. But I don’t think ranking sexual assaults is productive.