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Ferguson divided conservatives and liberals. Will Eric Garner unite them?

The casket carrying Eric Garner is brought out after his funeral outside the Bethel Baptist Church on July 23, 2014 in New York City
The casket carrying Eric Garner is brought out after his funeral outside the Bethel Baptist Church on July 23, 2014 in New York City
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Today we learned that NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo won't face criminal charges in the death of Eric Garner, a black Staten Island man who died after Pantaleo put him in a chokehold. Garner, who was under investigation for selling untaxed cigarettes, was unarmed at the time of his death, and video evidence leaves little doubt about what happened to him.

The death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, divided the nation not only along racial lines, but on political lines too. A recent Washington Post poll found that 63 percent of conservatives approved of the decision not to charge officer Darren Wilson in Brown's death, while just 29 percent of liberals agreed.

In contrast, early reactions suggest that anger over the decision not to prosecute Pantaleo spans the political spectrum.

"Stunning and horrifying"

"This decision is really and truly baffling to me, and infuriating besides," wrote Leon Wolf of the conservative blog Redstate shortly after the decision was announced.

"The Eric Garner news is stunning and horrifying," tweeted Justin Green, a reporter at the conservative Washington Examiner.

"It defies reason. It makes no sense," wrote Sean Davis at the Federalist. "Just going on the plain language of the law, the police officer who killed Garner certainly appears to be guilty of second-degree manslaughter at the very least."

What explains the difference between conservative reactions to the Garner and Brown cases? For one thing, some conservatives see Garner as a more sympathetic victim — especially since they're skeptical of cigarette taxes in the first place. As National Review's Charles Cooke put it, "Can you imagine what Sam Adams would have said at the news that a man had been killed over cigarette taxes?"

But more importantly, there appears to be a lot less disagreement about the facts in the Garner case. In the Brown case, there are conflicting accounts from Wilson and various witnesses about what happened in the seconds before Wilson shot Brown. Many conservatives have bought Wilson's story that he feared for his life when he shot Brown.

There's much less uncertainty in the Garner case. Video footage makes it clear that Garner wasn't behaving in a threatening fashion in the moments before police officers put him in a fatal chokehold.

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