New Yorkers expressed their collective anger, frustration, and disappointment over a grand jury’s decision not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo over the death of unarmed black man Eric Garner on Wednesday night, launching a 50-person “die-in” in Grand Central Station, sending dozens to the Staten Island street where Garner was arrested this summer, and hundreds more to Times and Union Square. The mass in midtown worked its way to Rockefeller Center to divert attention from the annual tree lighting and highlight issues of social justice, carrying signs that read “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe,” Garner’s famous last words.
In an effort to #ShutItDown, the march extended all the way to the West Side Highway, where they clashed with police. The New York Post reports that the highway was closed between West 79th to 45th Street for about an hour, and “police also used orange netting to pen hundreds of demonstrators 113th Street and Amsterdam Avenue and tangled with others who blocked the Lincoln Tunnel.” Protests continued, and over 1,000 protesters shut down the Brooklyn Bridge. The NYPD arrested at least 83 people.
The Justice Department is launching an investigation into the incident and the subsequent case. Garner died after Pantaleo put him in a prohibited chokehold, and a now-viral video of the arrest shows that the 43-year-old man cried out “I can’t breathe!” 11 times. The non-indictment comes at the heels of a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict white officer Darren Wilson in the death of unarmed black teen Mike Brown, and just days after a white officer in Ohio fatally shot a 12-year-old black boy.
President Obama addressed the nation after Wednesday’s decision, saying, “This is an issue we’ve been dealing with for too long and it’s time for us to make more progress than we’ve made. We’re seeing too many incidences where people do not have confidence that folks are being treated fairly. When anybody in the country is not being treated equally under the law, it is my job as President to solve it.”
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s comments were more pointed, invoking Martin Luther King Jr. and acknowledging that racism is a real problem in America. “Frustration is understandable. Centuries of racism precede us,” he said. But the mayor also urged for peace and nonviolent protest, explaining, “Demonstrations and free speech are valuable contributions to debate, but violence and disorder are not only wrong — they are counterproductive.”
The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association released a statement for Pantaleo expressing grief and sympathy for Garner. “I hope that they will accept my personal condolences for their loss,” the statement read. But for Esaw Garner, Eric Garner’s widow, the death of her husband and the failure to indict the white officer was akin “to a modern day lynching.”
“No, I don’t accept his apology,” she said at the headquarters of Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. “I could care less about his condolences. My husband is 6 feet under. [Pantaleo] is still working. He’s still collecting a paycheck and I’m looking for a way to feed my kids.”
(Photos: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)