NEW YORK -- As tourists gathered across New York to celebrate the holiday season, angry protesters walked across the city Wednesday chanting slogans made familiar in Ferguson, Missouri, in recent months and adding new ones to honor the life of Eric Garner. "Hands up, don't shoot," mingled with "I can't breathe" as the protesters marched from Union Square in lower Manhattan toward Rockefeller Center to stop the city's annual Christmas Tree lighting.
The demonstration was one of many protests across New York City and the nation Wednesday that formed hours after a grand jury decided not to indict a white police officer for killing Garner in an illegal chokehold. Demonstrators compared the decision to a similar outcome last week in Missouri, where a grand jury also opted not to bring charges against a white police officer in the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Both Brown and Garner were unarmed when they were killed by police. Garner screamed "I can't breathe" while in the chokehold, while Brown allegedly put his hands up before he was fatally shot.
Protester Vincent Cinque, 21, said he was astonished at the grand jury's decision in New York. "It's not just one mistake, now it's the second or third time it's not acceptable," said Cinque, a student at nearby New York University who said he would likely skip his classes for the evening to protest.
At Union Square, market vendors shut down as the crowd swelled to at least 150 people before marching Uptown toward Rockefeller Center, where more protesters there planned to shut down the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony. Police escorted the growing group along the way, keeping protesters off sidewalks, adding new barricades and blocking off intersections. "Apparently a tree is more important than a black man's life," one protester said, walking with the barricades. Witnesses said about five or six people were arrested.
Michael Arseneau, 21, a student at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said he still had faith in law enforcement, but wanted to send a message. "The dignity of the term 'uphold the law and serve the public' was defiled. They need to know that," he said, holding a sign that read "Ferguson is Everywhere," as he walked with the group.
Garner, 43, died July 17 after a group of NYPD officers stopped him for allegedly selling cigarettes illegally. Officer Daniel Pantaleo put Garner into a chokehold, a restraining tactic the NYPD banned in 1993. A New York City medical examiner eventually ruled Garner’s death a homicide by “compression of the neck.”
Tiffany Poole, 25, of Brooklyn, joined the group at Rockefeller Center after leaving work Wednesday night. She said she planned to keep participating all week. "I felt the rage," she said. "We are not violent, but we are hurt."