I Can't Breathe:
A Killing on Bay Street
in conversation with ROBIN YOUNG
Tickets on sale now
This event includes a book signing
October 25, 2017
(Doors at 6:30 )
First Parish Church
1446 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138
Harvard Book Store and WBUR welcome bestselling author and journalist MATT TAIBBI for a discussion of his latest book, I Can't Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street. He will be joined in conversation by ROBIN YOUNG, the Peabody Award–winning host of NPR's Here & Now.
About I Can't Breathe
On July 17, 2014, a forty-three-year-old black man named Eric Garner died on a Staten Island sidewalk after a police officer put him in what has been described as an illegal chokehold during an arrest for selling bootleg cigarettes. The final moments of Garner’s life were captured on video and seen by millions. His agonized last words, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying cry for the nascent Black Lives Matter protest movement. A grand jury ultimately declined to indict the officer who wrestled Garner to the pavement.
Matt Taibbi’s deeply reported retelling of these events liberates Eric Garner from the abstractions of newspaper accounts and lets us see the man in full—with all his flaws and contradictions intact. A husband and father with a complicated personal history, Garner was neither villain nor victim, but a fiercely proud individual determined to do the best he could for his family, bedeviled by bad luck, and ultimately subdued by forces beyond his control.
In America, no miscarriage of justice exists in isolation, of course, and in I Can’t Breathe Taibbi also examines the conditions that made this tragedy possible. Featuring vivid vignettes of life on the street and inside our Kafkaesque court system, Taibbi’s kaleidoscopic account illuminates issues around policing, mass incarceration, the underground economy, and racial disparity in law enforcement. No one emerges unsullied, from the conservative district attorney who half-heartedly prosecutes the case to the progressive mayor caught between the demands of outraged activists and the foot-dragging of recalcitrant police officials.
A masterly narrative of urban America and a scathing indictment of the perverse incentives built into our penal system, I Can’t Breathe drills down into the particulars of one case to confront us with the human cost of our broken approach to dispensing criminal justice.
“[A] searing exposé . . . After deeply exploring Garner’s life from a variety of perspectives, Taibbi offers detailed reporting about the out-of-control Staten Island police officers present at the death scene . . . [and] the futile efforts of the Garner family to achieve posthumous justice. . . . What emerges from the author’s superb reporting and vivid writing is a tragically revealing look at a broken criminal justice system geared to serve white citizens while often overlooking or ignoring the rights of others.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Richly reported and evocative. Although Taibbi is not shy about his point of view, he keeps the narrative nuanced and realistic. He is unafraid of the less charitable aspects of Garner, and he’s diligent and agnostic when it comes to detailing his world. Taibbi is the rare partisan who understands that, even as he makes his case, he need not pretend that the world is a simple place, and that the best way to grapple with its complexities is to let facts speak for themselves. The result here is a vivid folk history that should prove useful to anyone who seeks to understand the world Eric Garner inhabited, not just progressives.” —Jill Leovy, bestselling author of Ghettoside
“Matt Taibbi’s I Can’t Breathe marries the best instincts of explanatory narrative journalism with uncompromising moral clarity. The result is a riveting walk through decades of policing policy and big city politics that culminated, seemingly inevitably, in Eric Garner’s killing by the New York Police Department. While he may have set out to document a fatal injustice, the tale Taibbi tells is not one of a death, but one of a life. In capturing the fullness of Garner’s ‘imperfect humanity,’ I Can’t Breathe adds a vital account of police violence and a vivid exploration of its lingering costs. Taibbi, through thorough reporting and captivating writing, captures the totality of an American tragedy.” —Wesley Lowery, Pulitzer Prize–winning national correspondent for The Washington Post and author of the New York Times bestselling They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore and a New Era in America's Racial Justice Movement
Walking from the Harvard Square T station: 2 minutes
As you exit the station, cross Mass. Ave. and look for the newsstand called Crimson Corner. Turn right and proceed north along Mass. Ave. going toward the Cambridge Common. You will pass the Harvard Coop, Bank of America, and CVS. The First Parish Church is located at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Church St. Please enter through the front door of the church.
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