Two dozen Democrats in the Oregon House want an apology from a state senator who blamed a black man’s death at the hands of New York City police on tobacco taxes.
Sen. Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, sent out a press release Thursday decrying a proposal to raise the state tax on cigarettes by about 77 cents per pack. The release was headlined "I Can't Breathe: Tax hikes might be death sentences" and blamed the 2014 death of Eric Garner on "disproportionate and abusive state power."
Garner died five years ago after being choked by officers attempting to stop him from selling individual cigarettes.
In their letter, 24 House Democrats demanded an explanation from Linthicum.
"We find it incredibly disturbing that your office thought it appropriate to use the choking death of Eric Garner as an illustrative point to speak out against increasing tobacco taxes," the letter states. "Mr. Garner’s death did not occur because he was selling cigarettes — it occurred because of police brutality, a lack of accountability, and the systematic racism that exists within our country ...
"At a time when the Capitol is working hard to improve its culture and build a better, safer environment for everyone who comes through its doors, actions like this demonstrate how much more work we have left to do," it continued.
House Republicans have also criticized Linthicum's statement, calling them "at best ... unsavory and offensive."
Linthicum's spokesman defended the press release Thursday, contending that Garner was selling cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk because New York tobacco taxes led to an illegal market for tobacco products — thus leading to the encounter with police.
That’s an argument Garner’s wife has made publicly and that, in turn, has been seized on by some anti-tax conservatives.