A Staten Island grand jury Wednesday failed to indict the New York Police Department officer responsible for the choking death of 43-year-old Eric Garner, prompting mass protests throughout New York City and across the country.
In July, several New York Police Department (NYPD) officers approached Garner, including two sergeants, on suspicion he’d been selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. Garner was pinned to the ground and held in a chokehold by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo during that altercation, an act which was documented in a now-viral mobile phone video. In the footage, Garner can be seen and heard repeatedly shouting, “I can’t breathe!” Garner fell unconscious while in the chokehold and was ultimately pronounced dead at a hospital that day. The medical examiner later ruled that his death was a homicide.
Immediately following the announcement that Pantaleo would not be indicted, hundreds of demonstrators spilled into the streets in New York City, blocking traffic in the Lincoln Tunnel and on the Brooklyn Bridge and staging a die-in at Grand Central Station. “We All Witnessed Murder” one protester’s sign read.
Ramsey Orta, who took the cell phone recording of Garner’s death, told the Daily News on Thursday that the grand jury “already had their minds made up.” Orta testified before the grand jury on September 1, and although he expected to be questioned for hours the proceedings took only 10 minutes. “I feel like it wasn’t fair at all,” Orta said. “It wasn’t fair from the start.” Orta was indicted by a different Staten Island grand jury in August on unrelated weapons charges. At his arraignment, Orta argued that he was being tried on trumped up charges in retaliation for his recording of the police-involved murder. His initial bail was set at $75,000, and he is now the only person charged in connection with the incident.
For nearly two weeks now, anti-police violence demonstrations have been taking place across the country in the wake of the decision not to indict Ferguson Police Department officer Darren Wilson in the killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown, and the Staten Island decision only added to the ire of protesters seeking an end to excessive and lethal force by police officers. Solidarity demonstrations underscoring outrage over the Staten Island decision went forward in multiple cities Wednesday night, including Washington, DC, Oakland, Seattle, Atlanta, and Denver. On Twitter, the hashtag #CrimingWhileWhite rose to trending status as people shared personal examples of how they benefited from their white privilege in police encounters. The hashtag #AliveWhileBlack emerged in response, as people shared stories of racial profiling despite having committed no crime.
Media Resources: NBC New York 12/3/14; New York Daily News 8/1/14, 12/4/14; St. Louis Post Dispatch 12/4/14; Al Jazeera America 12/4/14; Twitter.com