4 Dec 2014

‘New York is Ferguson’ say protesters over death of Eric Garner

Tonight, on the streets of Manhattan, protestors over the death of an unarmed black man at the hands of a white policeman mingled with Christmas shoppers and tourists who turned out to see the city’s festive tree lights turned on in Rockefeller Plaza.

In Grand Central Station, when hundreds of energised and vocal demonstrators poured down the polished stone stairway into the pavilion, the commuters watched on from the balconies, curiously observing the interlopers as they lay down and staged a ‘die-in’ – in memory of Eric Garner.

What caused the noisy and chaotic protests was the grand jury’s decision not to recommend charges be laid against the white police officer who wrestled Mr Garner to the ground in a ‘chokehold’ grip, as the police attempted to lay charges against the Staten Island man for selling single cigarettes on the footpath outside a strip of shops.

‘I can’t breathe’

At the protests, they chanted “I can’t breathe” over and over. They were Eric Garner’s last words. We know because of a video recorded at the time of his arrest, in which you can clearly hear Mr Garner saying “I can’t breathe” as he is rolled onto his side with force by police.

Still, the grand jury found a lack of evidence that the policeman, Daniel Panteleo, had committed any crime. An autopsy performed on Mr Garner’s body led the city’s medical examiner to declare his death a homicide resulting from the chokehold and “the compression of his chest by officers”. The city police department’s guidelines ban chokeholds.

protester with sign

The protestors – mostly young, both black and white – challenged the police along the avenues as far as upper Manhattan. They rallied in Times Square, broke away and tried to reach the star spangled tree lighting ceremony. When that didn’t happen, they closed down Broadway – and the West Side highway – and repeatedly forced their way inside Grand Central Station.


A young black man described the protests as necessary, since white police keep doing this to unarmed black people – a reference to the Ferguson grand jury which also decided not to indict the white police officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. The chant that echoed around Grand Central Station? “New York is Ferguson. Ferguson is New York.”

Police stood silently, without reaction, inside the station as protestors shouted in their faces – that they were killers. But there were arrests elsewhere – and down on the West Side highway, there was aggression too, from police who rushed the frontline of protestors. We saw one woman handcuffed, as she challenged the police line.

At a press conference organised by the Rev. Al Sharpton, Eric Garner’s wife Esaw grieved for the husband who would not celebrate Christmas this year with his children and grandchildren. She expressed her anger, despite an apology from the policeman who killed her husband, and vowed to seek justice “because he shouldn’t have been killed in that way, he shouldn’t have been killed in any way.”

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