Public outrage over a string of fatal police encounters spilled into the streets of major cities across the country again Thursday as crowds gathered in response to news that the police officer associated with Eric Garner’s chokehold death would not face criminal charges.
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Thousands of demonstrators flooded the streets of Manhattan Thursday night, shutting down major intersections and roadways for hours. A network of activists planned similar actions across the country, using social media to connect supporters in order to fill public spaces in a collective display of growing discontent over police brutality and racial disparities seen in communities nationwide. Some demonstrators in Times Square threw objects at officers, and more than 200 people were arrested overnight in New York City, according to police.
Protesters also marched in Washington, D.C., for a second straight day. A group of about 100 people staged a “die-in” near the White House as a Christmas Tree lighting ceremony took place about a block away, NBC Washington reported. Police in Boston were expecting 4,000 protesters in demonstrations also planned to coincide with a tree lighting ceremony on Boston Common, NBC station WHDH reported. Protesters later forced several roads to close and got onto train tracks, suspending mass transit for a brief period.
In Chicago, hundreds marched during rush hour Thursday. Crowds later walked onto the Dan Ryan Expressway, briefly closing it, until police escorted them off the road. Protesters staged a “die-in” on Roosevelt and shut down traffic for 10 minutes. There were also protests in Dallas, San Francisco, Atlanta and Portland, Oregon.
In downtown Manhattan, thousands of people converged on Foley Square, representing worker’s unions, advocates, students and citizens. Hundreds more mobilized in New York’s Union Square, leaving much of lower Manhattan and portions of the West Side Highway at a standstill.It was announced Wednesday that a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict white New York City police officer Daniel Pantalone in Garner’s death. Garner, a black man, died after Pantalone placed him in an apparent chokehold in July after officers detained Garner for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. Garner was unarmed at the time, and the incident was captured by eyewitnesses on video.
“There are more people from different walks of life here – that’s encouraging,” said Michael Gsoeski, a 26-year-old law student living in Brooklyn. “Police accountability is a really complex issue and I think until now we’ve been very content to slap a tag on it and call it fixed.”
The grand jury announcement out of New York Wednesday is just the latest event to uncover festering relations between American citizens and police. Last week, a St. Louis grand jury declined to indict a white police officer who shot and killed unarmed black teen Michael Brown Jr. in a case that spurred nationwide protests. And in Cleveland, Ohio, a 12-year-old was fatally shot by a white police officer after the young boy raised a toy pistol.
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Garner’s case carried particular weight for advocates pressing for police reform since the fatal incident was captured on cell-phone video. According the the New York City Medical Examiner, Garner’s death was ruled a homicide. Further complicating matters, the NYPD restricts use of chokeholds.
Earlier Thursday, New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said the department would ramp up its investigation into Garner’s death. Meanwhile, New York City Major Bill de Blasio said the NYPD would receive new training to build trust between officers and the communities they serve.
“Fundamental questions are being asked, and rightfully so,” de Blasio said in a news conference Thursday. “The way we go about policing has to change.”
On Broadway Thursday night, 38-year-old Ivettza Sanchez parted the crowd for a moment to snap a picture of her daughter who joined for protest on the cold, crisp December night. Sanchez said she was not sure whether her 6-year-old was big enough to understand why they were marching, but it was a teachable moment she said she wasn’t quite ready to have.
“It was a pretty scary conversation that I didn’t want to have, but it was needed,” Sanchez said. ”I hope for progress. I hope to make the sort of change here so that she won’t have to do this again with her daughter.”
“I’m going to keep screaming until the oxygen runs out of my lungs,” said 19-year-old Dariel Ali. “I’m tired that as a young African-American man, that I can’t trust the police. I’m tired that as a young African-American man, I have to live my life in fear.”
“I’m tired,” he added. “And enough is enough.”