Thursday, December 04, 2014

Rallying in Solidarity with Eric Garner and Other Victims of Police Brutality

Earlier today I participated in a solidarity rally for Eric Garner and other victims of police brutality, a dispportionate number of whom are African American males. Garner, an African American, died July 17 in the Tompkinsville neighborhood of Staten Island, New York, after a police officer put him in a chokehold, a tactic banned by the New York City Police Department (NYPD). Yesterday, a grand jury decided not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who applied the chokehold on Garner.

The Grand Jury's decision has sparked protests and rallies across the country, including the one today in Minneapolis, which for several hours shut down Interstate 35W northbound.

Following is how New York Times correspondent Vivienne Yee describes the rallies that occurred yesterday in New York City and Staten Island.

They chanted it in Grand Central Terminal, shouted it in Times Square, emblazoned it across Facebook and Twitter, the three words that came to stand for the death of another unarmed black man at the hands of a white police officer.

“I can’t breathe,” Eric Garner had gasped after the officer put his neck in a chokehold on a hot July day on Staten Island, a fatal encounter captured on video and viewed by millions of people. On Wednesday, after a grand jury declined to indict the officer, the words — and the video — were revived in a wave of despair and fury that rolled as far out as the corridors of Capitol Hill and the streets of Oakland, Calif.

Elected officials in New York and Washington, too, did not hold back, offering an extraordinary outpouring of stunned reaction that seemed to mirror — and perhaps calm — protesters’ anger.

As demonstrators rushed to Staten Island, hundreds of people marched north from Times Square, trying, and failing, to push through police barricades to disrupt the annual Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Center. Protesting from midafternoon to late into the night, they blocked traffic on the West Side Highway, disrupted it on the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge and at the Lincoln Tunnel, sat en masse at Columbus Circle, and held “die-ins” at Grand Central Terminal and near Radio City Music Hall. “We can’t breathe,” they chanted.

Unlike those in Ferguson, Mo., after a grand jury decided not to indict a police officer in the death of an unarmed black teenager there, the protests remained largely peaceful, with about 30 arrests by 10 p.m. Early Thursday morning, several groups of protesters continued to march through the city, with many demonstrating at the Brooklyn Bridge and some remaining in Times Square.

Yet this was no Ferguson, where conflicting witness accounts obscured the circumstances of the confrontation between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson, the white officer who shot him. This encounter was recorded at close range on a cellphone camera, the fact that kept many on Wednesday asking: How? Why?

Above and below: More images from today's solidarity rally in Minneapolis.

Writes Eric Roper in the Star Tribune:

The takeover of a major interstate is without precedent in recent local history. A similar protest occurred during the 1972 anti-war movement, however, when about 200 people blocked traffic on Interstate 94. Protesters also walked up Hiawatha Avenue, a state highway, late last month.

Traffic halt to a standstill in the northbound lane of Interstate 35W behind [today's] protest. State troopers were on the scene, but appeared not to make any arrests.

The State Patrol's Acting Chief Lt. Col. Matt Langer said in a statement that their concern is "always for the safety of the public."

"To be clear: It is illegal and extremely dangerous to walk on a freeway," he said. "In this case, the safest and fastest way to clear the roadway was to keep the demonstrators moving and have them exit the Interstate. Arresting more than 100 people would have taken longer and been potentially more dangerous than letting them leave on their own."

As long as white police continue to kill black men without consequence, white people's lives should be disrupted. Our traffic, our neighborhoods, our schools, our workplaces, our houses of worship. Our sleep. No more life as normal for anyone until there is justice. This gear shift has no neutral.

Related Off-site Links:
No Indictment for NYC Cop in Videotaped Chokehold Death of Black Man – Associated Press via Yahoo! News (December 3, 2014).
Eric Garner: Grand Jury Declines to Indict NYPD Officer Over Chokehold Death – Lauren Gambino (The Guardian, December 3, 2014).
"I Can’t Breathe" Is Echoed in Voices of Fury and Despair – Vivian Yee (The New York Times, December 3, 2014).
"I Can’t Breathe!" "I Can’t Breathe!": A Moral Indictment of Cop Culture – Michael Daly (The Daily Beast, December 3, 2014).
Black Bodies and the Thin Blue Line – Yohuru Williams (LA Progressive, December 4, 2014).
The Lonesome Death of Eric Garner – Harry Siegel (New York Daily News, December 3, 2014).
"It was Criminal": Retired NYPD Detective Slams Eric Garner Grand Jury DecisionDemocracy Now (December 4, 2014).
We Must Stop Police Abuse of Black Men – Eric L. Adams (The New York Times, December 4, 2014).
"Believing Our Lying Eyes": Race, Justice, and Eric Garner – Dennis Parker (Common Dreams, December 5, 2014).
Police Cases Converge to Stir National Debate – Tom Hays and Colleen Long (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, December 5, 2014).
Protesters Shut Down 35W, Move on City Hall – Ben Johnson (City Pages, December 4, 2014).
Protesters in Minneapolis Join Eric Garner DemonstrationsMPR News (December 4, 2014).
Meet the Young Activists Behind the I-35W Shutdown – Laura Yuen (MPR News, December 5, 2014).
A Crisis of Confidence in Prosecutors – The Editorial Board (The New York Times, December 8, 2014).
UN Panel Slams US for Police Brutality, Torture, and Botched (November 29, 2014).

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
Quote of the Day – November 25, 2014

Images: Michael J. Bayly, except for the Times Square photo, which was taken by my friend Mick Schommer, and the photo accompanying the excerpt from Eric Roper's article, which was taken by a Star Tribune photographer.

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