Activists outraged over a grand jury’s decision to not indict a white policeman in the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, vowed Thursday to launch a national campaign modeled on the 1960s civil rights movement to press the federal government to intervene in cases of alleged police abuse.
“Marches and boycotts led to the '64 Civil Rights Act,” Al Sharpton, head of the National Action Network, said after a meeting with other leading activists in his Harlem headquarters. They included Urban League President Marc Morial and Cornell Brooks, the president of the NAACP.
Sharpton said demonstrators needed to centralize their battle and focus on the federal government, and repeated plans for a mass march in Washington on Dec. 13 to launch the movement.
For weeks, scattered protests have been held nightly in cities across the country to protest a string of deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of law enforcement. The demonstrations went into especially high gear after a grand jury in Missouri last month declined to indict white police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old.
More protests erupted from coast to coast on Wednesday after the 23-member New York grand jury failed to indict New York police Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Garner. Garner, 43, died on July 17 after Pantaleo wrapped an arm around his neck during an altercation on a Staten Island sidewalk.
The encounter was caught on video. The city's medical examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide due to compression of his neck and chest.
While the protests have been boisterous and have led to traffic tie-ups and some arrests, the activists who met in New York on Thursday said they were not enough to bring about the institutional change that is needed.
“We need to centralize,” Sharpton said, “and make clear that we want the Justice Department … to deal with the fact that the grand jury systems on a state level are broken.”
Morial and Sharpton echoed the disbelief expressed by Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, who has repeatedly questioned how jurors who watched the video of Pantaleo pressing Garner's head into the sidewalk as Garner gasped, "I can't breathe" could not find cause to indict him.
Morial called it a “travesty of justice.”
“We met today because of the urgency of the moment," he said. "The urgency of the moment is a reawakening."
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