At least 30 people were arrested by the New York Police Department on Wednesday evening, as thousands of protesters flooded city streets after a grand jury declined to indict an officer for killing a Staten Island man via chokehold.
Following the decision, demonstrations began popping up throughout the city. Protesters disrupted traffic by blocking numerous streets – including the West Side Highway – marching into Times Square, and taking over the area near Rockefeller Center, where the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony was taking place. Streets and sidewalks were blocked, with police telling people they could only pass if they had passes to the ceremony.
Demonstrators also poured into Grand Central Station by the hundreds, where they staged a “die-in” and spread their bodies across the floor. Numerous protesters told RT they wanted to “shut down” the city as a result of the decision, and traffic jams were subsequently reported at Lincoln Tunnel and Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, as well as other areas.
Approximately 30 people were arrested, according to NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, though more have been reported since he spoke around 10 p.m. So far, police have not reported any violent incidents or injuries.
While the protests were not previously planned, momentum for them began building soon after the grand jury’s decision was reported. The case involved 43-year-old African American Eric Garner of Staten Island, who was placed in a chokehold by Officer Daniel Pantaleo for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes. Garner was taken to the ground with the help of several others. Despite repeatedly complaining that he couldn’t breathe, Garner ended up going into cardiac arrest and dying.
The July incident was caught on video by a civilian bystander and ruled a homicide by the city medical examiner, but the grand jury did not indict Pantaleo on any charges.
The decision was met with fierce criticism immediately after it was revealed, drawing condemnation from all over the political spectrum. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said it was “a very emotional day for our city,” adding that Garner was “a man who should be with us, and now isn’t.”
Soon afterwards, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Justice Department is opening a federal civil rights investigation into the incident, one that would include a “complete review” of the evidence collected during the local investigation.
However, this news didn’t quell outrage among residents, many of whom also protested last week’s decision by a St. Louis County grand jury not to indict a white officer for killing a black teenager. People marched through the streets chanting slogans such as “I can’t breathe,” referring to Garner’s last words. They also yelled, “No Justice, no peace.”
Following the decision, Pantaleo issued an apology for what occurred back in July.
“It is never my intention to hurt anyone and I feel very bad about the death of Mr. Garner,” Pantaleo said. “My family and I include him and his family in our prayers and I hope they will accept my personal condolences for their loss.”
Speaking alongside Rev. Al Sharpton, Garner’s widow, Esaw Garner, said she did not accept Pantaleo’s apology.
“I couldn’t care less about his condolences,” she said. “He’s still working, he’s still feeding his kids. And my husband is six feet under and I’m looking for a way to feed my kids now. Who’s going to play Santa Claus for my grandkids this year? Who’s going to do that now?”
“I am determined to get justice for my husband because he shouldn’t have been killed in that way,” said Esaw Garner.“My husband’s death will not be in vain. As long as I have breathe in my body I will fight the fight.”
Meanwhile, Sharpton announced that there will be a march against police brutality in Washington, DC, on December 13.