Heavy protests erupted last night in New York City, and around the country, over the grand jury decision not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner. 83 people were arrested, many for disorderly conduct, as thousands of people occupied several areas of the city—including Union Square, Grand Central Terminal and Rockefeller Center—shouting "We can't breathe," some of Eric Garner's last words.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Protests in NYC
The grand jury's decision was the second time in 8 days that a white police officer was not indicted for the killing of an unarmed black man (NYC took to the streets to protest the St. Louis grand jury's decision concerning Michael Brown's death last Tuesday). The incident between Pantaleo and Garner was videotaped on a witness' cellphone. Garner, who was being arrested for selling loose cigarettes on a July day in Staten Island, was put into a chokehold by Pantaleo and not released, despite the asthmatic Garner's continued pleas of "I can't breathe." The video has been viewed online by millions. The medical examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide by chokehold.
Garner's wife, Esaw Garner, said Garner's death was a "modern-day lynching," according to MSNBC. Garner's father, Ben Garner, told the Staten Island Advance: "There is no justice system. Whites can kill blacks, but not the other way around. Who can control the Police Department? We had a damn video tape."
Many echoed his incredulous sentiment. Frustrated New Yorkers rushed to Rockefeller Center to disrupt the tree lighting, while others had a "die-in" at Grand Central Terminal, lying motionless on the ground among commuters to represent dead bodies, according to The New York Post.
Mayor Bill de Blasio canceled his appearance at the Rockefeller Center tree lighting ceremony to head to Staten Island, where he made a statement calling for reform. "Eric Garner’s death put a spotlight on police-community relations and civil rights—some of most critical issues our nation faces today," de Blasio said. “Today’s outcome is one that many in our city did not want... These goals, of bringing police and community closer together and changing the culture of law enforcement, are why we have introduced so many reforms this year... Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—one of our nation’s most profound thinkers on these issues—taught us something very simple: 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.' The problem of police-community relations and civil rights is not just an issue for people of color, or young people, or people who get stopped by police. This is a fundamental issue for every American who cares about justice."
Officer Pantaleo released his own statement: "I became a police officer to help people and to protect those who can’t protect themselves,” he said. “It is never my intention to harm anyone and I feel very bad about the death of Mr. Garner. My family and I include him and his family in our prayers and I hope that they will accept my personal condolences for their loss."
Opportunities to join in protesting continue today: a protest in Foley Square at Duane Street between Lafayette and Centre Street will organize at 5:30pm, and #Stayturnt for Garner will meet in Sarah D. Roosevelt Park on Houston between Forsyth and Christie at 7pm.
See powerful photos of the protests across NYC below: