The woman is about 40, and walks five dogs in Manhattan. Makes more than $100 a day off the books. I asked her whether she was ever hassled by the police. She looked confused by the question.
"Never," she answered.
Eric Garner was selling "loosies" -- single cigarettes. Not paying taxes. When the police came to get him, he resisted -- verbally. His last words before he died: "I can't breathe."
The underground economy has grown tremendously since the 2008 economic collapse. Dog walkers. Day laborers. And yes, those who sell illegal, untaxed "loosies."
While unemployment numbers are gradually improving, economists estimate that 18 % to 19 % of all income nationwide is still unreported (about $2 trillion annually).
Let's face it, many of us know someone who is working off the books. If officials started arresting everyone who was paid in cash, the jails would overflow within a week.
Garner was a member of the underground economy. And when the cops came by, Garner, a former parks department horticulturalist, asked them to just leave him alone.
"He always felt he was being targeted and harassed by officers arresting him on no basis," his former Legal Aid attorney, Christopher Pisciotta, told NY1.
Garner died horribly, but those who blame all police for the actions of a few do no one any favors. The problem is deeper. An economy where not only jobs, but also business addresses, are shipped overseas, as major corporations move their headquarters to avoid paying taxes. Some members of Congress who belittle those out of work or on unemployment as shiftless bums. A society that clamps down on street vendors while failing to rein in rogue bankers.
Meanwhile, those selling water, food and yes, loose cigarettes, on the street are regularly hassled, while the well-to-do hire maids and nannies and illegally pay them in cash, without fear of arrest.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner William Bratton and the Rev. Al Sharpton met last week to discuss ways to avoid Eric Garner-type situations.
The uneven approach will end the first time a protesting middle-class dog walker -- or a crooked banker -- is put in a chokehold.