NEW YORK (Reuters) – Thousands of demonstrators disrupted New York City traffic into early Thursday after a grand jury decided not to bring charges against a white police officer in the chokehold death of an unarmed black man.
Mostly peaceful protests sprung up on Wednesday evening at locations throughout Manhattan, including Grand Central Terminal, Times Square and near Rockefeller Center, after the panel returned no indictment against Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner in July. The US Justice Department said it was investigating to determine whether Garner’s civil rights had been violated.
The 43-year-old father of six was accused of illegally selling cigarettes on a sidewalk when Pantaleo put him in a chokehold from behind and tackled him with the help of other officers. Police said he had resisted arrest. The city’s medical examiner had ruled the death a homicide.
The deadly encounter on Staten Island, New York City’s least populous borough, was captured on a video that quickly spread over the Internet and fuelled debate about how US police use force, particularly against minorities.
President Barack Obama said the grand jury decision spoke to ‘the concern on the part of too many minority communities that law enforcement is not working with them and dealing with them in a fair way.’
The decision poses the biggest challenge yet for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who came into office in January promising to mend strained relations between black New Yorkers and the police department.
It was the second grand jury in just over a week to decline to prosecute a white policeman in the death of an unarmed black man. The decision by a panel in the shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, sparked a spasm of violence, with businesses burned and looted in the St Louis suburb.
By contrast, the New York protests were civil, with about 30 arrests by mid-evening. Police were clearly showing restraint and allowing demonstrators to block traffic briefly before coaxing them to move on.
Marchers snaked through the streets for hours, chanting and bumping up against throngs of tourists in New York for the holiday season. Disparate clusters of protesters crossed through Times Square a number of times, and one group brought traffic on the West Side Highway along the Hudson River to a standstill.
Later, after marching from Central Park to lower Manhattan, some protesters crossed a bridge into the borough of Brooklyn.
Keiha Souley, 35, was driving his taxi cab on Broadway when protesters blocked traffic. As he chanted along with demonstrators, he said he did not mind the delay.
“You’ve got to stand up sometime,” he said.
In one of several ‘die-ins’, demonstrators laid on the pavement in silent protest about a block from where the Christmas tree lighting ceremony was under way at Rockefeller Center. Police blockaded the street, preventing marchers from interrupting the nationally televised event.