Hundreds of people arrested at Eric Garner protests in N.Y.

Thousands of protesters converge on New York streets over the death of Eric Garner

For the second night, thousands of demonstrators in New York gathered to protest a grand jury decision to not indict a white police officer in the death of an unarmed black man on Staten Island.

More than 5,000 people gathered in New York's Foley Square and several other locations Thursday night, and more than 200 were ultimately arrested, mostly on carges of disorderly conduct. Protests also unfolded in several major cities across the nation, including Washington and Chicago. 

Mickey Thomas, a 21-year-old student at Hunter College in New York, said, "As a black person, I've been stopped wearing a hoodie in front of my university ... but I didn't think everyone cared about police brutality."

Protesters marched through the city chanting the name of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old father of six who died July 17 during an altercation with police.

The incident began when several officers tried to arrest him on suspicion of selling illegal cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk.

An onlooker's video showed one officer, Daniel Pantaleo, locking his arm around Garner's neck in what appeared to be a chokehold.

"I can't breathe," Garner gasped several times as other officers piled on him. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide due to compression of the neck and chest.

The 23-member grand jury announced its decision Wednesday not to indict Pantaleo. Grand jury proceedings by law are secret, so it is impossible to know what swayed the panel's decision.

The district attorney in Staten Island, Daniel Donovan, said he had asked for a court order to make public "specific information" in connection with the jurors' investigation.

Donovan said more than 38 interviews were conducted with 22 witnesses, including first-responders and forensic experts, during the investigation.

The grand jury decision came nine days after a Missouri grand jury declined to charge a white officer in the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man, in Ferguson.

Protesters marched through New York streets Thursday, shouting: "Eric Garner! Michael Brown! Shut this racist system down."

They carried signs reading: "Black Lives Matter," "I can't breathe" and "He would be alive if he were white."

Ida Dupont, a sociology professor at Pace University who specializes in criminology, said she thought Garner's case was an "open and shut case" with the video.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said police had struck the right tone in handling protesters Wednesday night, and the mayor again called for better police training.

“A whole generation of officers will be trained in a new way,” he said as he and Police Commissioner William J. Bratton outlined previously announced plans to teach officers how to communicate better.

Speaking after a tour of the new Police Academy in College Point, Queens, de Blasio, accompanied by Bratton, watched as instructors discussed how police were allowed to take down suspects, a key issue in the Garner case, where critics said police used an improper chokehold that led to the man’s death.

“Fundamental questions are being asked, and rightfully so,” de Blasio said, adding, “This tragedy is raising a lot of tough questions.”

“People need to know that black lives and brown lives matter as much as white lives,” said the mayor, who has spoken eloquently on race relations and how fear of police has touched his family. De Blasio is married to a black woman.

Robert Gangi, director of the Police Reform Organizing Project, said his organization thought de Blasio's announcement to retrain police was mainly "cosmetic and superficial."

"We need to fix the 'broken windows policing' - the day-to-day racial profiling that happens on the job," he said.

Gangi said his organization hoped the high turnout at the protests increased political pressure to reform policing.

"This is an almost historic political opportunity that's happening at the grass-roots level," he said. "This stops today."

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

Dec. 5, 8:27 a.m. This post was updated with information about arrests in New York.

This post was originally published on Dec. 4 at 6:37 p.m. 

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