There are appropriate occasions to knowingly use the now-loaded phrase "I can't breathe," and there are less-appropriate occasions.
An appropriate occasion: during a march to protest the failure to indict the Staten Island policeman responsible for the death of Eric Garner, whose last words, repeated again and again as he died, were "I can't breathe."
A not-so-appropriate occasion: When you are trying to drum up outrage about how regulators are treating a law-breaking bank.
A London bank analyst for the British-South African bank Investec chose the latter approach on Wednesday morning, publishing a research note about the British bank Standard Chartered with the title "I Can't Breathe." (Here's a picture of the top of the note, courtesy of a Wall Street Journal tweet.)
— WSJ Europe (@WSJeurope) December 10, 2014
Investec apologized for the note, in a statement emailed to The Huffington Post:
“Investec apologises unreservedly for the inappropriate content in this morning's research note on Standard Chartered and for any offence caused. The content in question does not represent the views of Investec.”
Investec analyst Ian Gordon wrote that U.S. regulators are stifling StanChart as punishment for breaking U.S. laws against doing business with rogue regimes such as Iran. The bank has already been put on a sort of probation by the U.S. Department of Justice, called a "deferred prosecution agreement," over that issue. On Tuesday the bank agreed to extend that probation by another three years, inspiring Gordon's note.
The note doesn't mention Garner specifically, but the headline of his note appears to imply that Standard Chartered's treatment is pretty much just like an unarmed man being choked to death during an arrest.
Gordon didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, but he did talk extensively to the Financial Times, which first reported his note. Gordon explained to the paper that, yes, he sure did mean to draw the comparison between Garner and StanChart.
"They are both examples of abuse of power or authoritarian control gone wrong,” Gordon told the FT. “Standard Chartered — a legitimate business — is being prevented from breathing or operating by U.S. regulatory discriminatory behaviour. The parallel I see is unfettered power by a U.S. agency.”
Gordon expressed surprise that StanChart's treatment wasn't arousing the same sort of anger as Garner's tragic and pointless death.
“The parallel, or lack of parallel, is that in the Garner case you see widespread anger and uprising in the public,” Gordon told the FT. “In the case of StanChart — and yes, it is very different circumstances — but the silence of the UK government is perverse given the circumstances. StanChart itself is gagged.”
We'll give you a second to pick your jaw up off the floor.
Gordon wanted to make this point more explicitly in his note, but some unnamed hero in Investec's compliance department thought better of that and removed the offending bits, though leaving the headline on the note for all to see.
Gordon apparently doesn't think StanChart is all that stifled -- he gave its stock a "buy" rating.
Standard Chartered did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This post has been updated with a comment from Investec.