Protests erupted across New York and in cities from Georgia to California after a white police officer was cleared in the chokehold death of an unarmed black man — a case that drew comparisons to the deadly police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.
New York City police said early yesterday that more than 60 people were arrested, most for disorderly conduct.
The decision on Wednesday by the Staten Island grand jury not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo heightened tensions that have simmered in the city since the July 17 death of Eric Garner.
In the neighborhood where Garner died, people reacted with angry disbelief and chanted: “I can’t breathe,” and “Hands up — don’t choke.”
In Manhattan, demonstrators lay down in Grand Central Terminal, walked through traffic on the West Side Highway and blocked the Brooklyn Bridge.
A New York City Council member cried. Hundreds converged on the heavily secured area around the annual Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting with a combination of professional-looking signs and hand-scrawled placards reading: “Black lives matter” and “Fellow white people, wake up.”
“This fight ain’t over, it just begun,” said Garner’s widow, Esaw.
However, the protests were largely peaceful, in contrast to the widespread arson and looting that accompanied the decision nine days earlier not to indict the white officer who shot dead Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen.
US Attorney Eric Holder said federal prosecutors would conduct their own investigation of Garner’s death as officers were attempting to arrest him for selling untaxed cigarettes on the street. The New York Police Department also is doing an internal probe that could lead to administrative charges against Pantaleo, who remains on desk duty.
US President Barack Obama said on Wednesday night that the grand jury decision underscores the need to strengthen the trust and accountability between communities and law enforcement.
In his first public comments on the death, Pantaleo said he prays for Garner’s family and hopes they accept his condolences.
Police union officials and Pantaleo’s lawyer said the officer used a takedown move taught by the police department, not a banned maneuver, because Garner was resisting arrest. They said his poor health was the main reason he died.
Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan said the grand jury found “no reasonable cause” to bring charges. The grand jury could have considered a range of charges, from murder to a lesser offense such as reckless endangerment.
“I am actually astonished based on the evidence of the videotape, and the medical examiner, that this grand jury at this time wouldn’t indict for anything,” said Jonathan Moore a lawyer for Garner’s family.
Garner’s family planned a news conference later in the day with civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio canceled his planned appearance at the annual Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting to hold a news conference at a Staten Island church.
“Today’s outcome is one that many in our city did not want,” he said in a statement. “Yet New York City owns a proud and powerful tradition of expressing ourselves through nonviolent protest.”
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