UPDATE 8:45 p.m.: Protesters spread out over parts of lower Manhattan, shutting down the Brooklyn Bridge Thursday night shortly after leaving Foley Square. Other demonstrators gathered near the entrance to the Staten Island ferry.
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More than 1,000 demonstrators gathered in Foley Square in lower Manhattan on Thursday night to protest a grand jury’s decision not to indict New York police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of 43-year-old Eric Garner. The demonstration was part of a second night of scattered, citywide protests aimed at drawing attention to what many have said is a pervasive problem in law enforcement.
Protesters held signs that read “No More Innocent Blood Shed” and “I Can’t Breathe” -- a reference to Garner’s last words as Pantaleo choked him -- and chanted “No justice, no peace, no racist police.” Many expressed incredulity over the grand jury’s decision not to charge Pantaleo in Garner’s death, given that the confrontation between the officer and Garner, who was unarmed, was caught on video.
“I can’t imagine why I wouldn’t be here -- as a New Yorker, as an African-American, a black man, and also as a human being,” Stacey Robinson, 51, an opera singer living in New York, told International Business Times at the Foley Square protest. “This is about humanity. How is it that you can choke a man, and the man says, ‘I can’t breathe,’ and your humanity doesn’t kick in?”
Some protesters cited what they said was a “history” of law enforcement in the U.S. targeting young, black Americans. “This is systemic racism, this is not just one situation,” said Sade Snowden-Akintunde, a 19-year-old business student at New York University. “People like to think we live in a post-racial America because we have a black president, but this instance and other instances make it obvious that we don’t."
Police attempted to arrest Garner on July 15 for allegedly selling individual cigarettes, called “loosies,” illegally on the street in Staten Island. Video of the encounter shows Pantaleo wrestling Garner to the ground in what looks like a chokehold. Garner repeatedly says he can't breathe, and his body goes limp moments later. A medical examiner for the city ruled his death a homicide.
A grand jury met for nine weeks to decide whether to charge Pantaleo for Garner’s death. They listened to testimony from 50 witnesses and considered 60 pieces of evidence, including four videos. Their decision not to indict Pantaleo was announced Wednesday.
Robinson said Garner’s case represented “oppression” of all kinds of Americans, not just black Americans. “I’ve seen all colors out here tonight -- the melting pot,” she said. “Everybody has been affected by this. I think what’s drawn people to this is that we’re tired of reading about it, we’re tired of turning on [the news] and seeing that another life has been taken … by someone whose job is to serve and protect.”