Rep. Peter King of New York has blamed Eric Garner’s death on his weight. Well, on his weight and asthma, but he’s emphasizing the weight more,probably because his weight is perceived as something that’s his own fault and therefore King can hold Garner partially responsible for his own death. Unfortunately, this meme has spread to some people I know who work for DHS, who were saying that he died “because he was 400-something lbs” (the Atlantic article says 350) and that the autopsy showed that his trachea wasn’t damaged (the Atlantic and some Fox news sources [these two people were Fox fans] say there was hemorrhaging in Garner’s neck, evidence of compression). I tried to avoid joining in the conversation, but after being asked what I thought and telling them once, “You don’t want to know what I think”, I told them.
Talking to them further–well, mostly one of them, the one who’d asked what I think–caused her to admit that pretty much anyone can begin having problems breathing if they are lying on their stomach with someone on top of them, although both their own weight and the weight of the person on top of them affect how quickly it will become a hazard. (She also admitted that, as annoying as she found Al Sharpton, he probably wasn’t a truly one of the biggest contributors to the race problems in this country, as she had said earlier. In turn, I said that although the statistical disparities between races in killings by police are a bigger problem than Al Sharpton, it can be hard to tell how much race/racism affects any one case.) Then she and the guy she was talking with started going off on a tangent about how fat people are used to carrying a lot of weight around and can throw you around and can be dangerous, even if they’re not “on something.” (Then they started going off on a tangent about how a guy who was only 150 lbs who was on meth was throwing around 3 or 4 people.)
Which demonstrates another way that being fat (or even just sort of fat) can work against people in general and black men in particular. Mike Brown was the same height as Darren Wilson but outweighed him by about 80 lbs–and Wilson said of Brown, “I felt like a 5-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan”. Hulk Hogan’s billed weight was 302 lbs, more than either Brown or Wilson. A typical 5-year-old is, what, 40-50 lbs?
When it’s convenient for the people talking about them, fat black men are “big and strong”, and when it’s convenient, they are weak and on death’s doorstep.