Thousands blocked traffic around the city and more than a few clashed with New York City police in Times Square Thursday night following a grand jury decision not to indict an officer in the death of a man resisting arrest. Hundreds also marched across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan into Brooklyn at around midnight.
At least 22,000 police officers are also heading for a three-day in-service retraining program after the grand jury spent six months hearing testimony and then cleared Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the case.
Staten Island resident Eric Gardner died after being “taken down” in a half-Nelson hold by a New York City police officer while resisting arrest. Gardner was illegally selling “loosies” – single cigarettes – on the street at the time. The incident was videotaped by a passerby.
Pantaleo and a number of others restrained Gardner and attempted to handcuff him even as he loudly told officers “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.” Gardner was morbidly obese and had a history of asthma and a host of other medical conditions. He died while being “taken down” by the officer. The coroner’s report listed a number of reasons for his death, including those medical conditions — and the “take down,” which Pantaleo said he performed exactly as he was taught at Police Academy.
Within hours of the grand jury’s decision, thousands of protesters were in the streets. Hundreds were packed behind rows of barricades on the sidewalks of Fifth Avenue as revelers awaited the annual lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. Just a block away, on Sixth Avenue, police stood in riot gear, controlling an even bigger mob. More marched down the West Side Highway and blocked major arteries into the city.
On Thursday, thousands again came out to Foley Square in downtown Manhattan, chanting “I can’t breathe” and the mantra of the 1991 Crown Heights riots, “No justice, no peace.”
They marched across the Brooklyn Bridge carrying fake coffins while a second group demonstrated in Harlem and others blocked traffic near the Holland Tunnel, the Manhattan Bridge and on the West Side Highway.
New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio said the program was aimed at “changing how our officers talk, and how they listen to residents of our city.” Police Commissioner Bill Bratton joined DeBlasio at the podium, saying the training would be managed in a professional manner and would accomplish a long-awaited upgrade to the force.
Given the current wave of disturbances sweeping across the United States, it is odd the US is telling Israel how to manage its internal, defense and foreign relations with the Palestinian Authority or Gaza.
New York’s police “retraining” program is specifically intended to “build trust through respect” in the community, Deputy Police Commissioner Bill Tucker told reporters. The new slogan for the city’s force, he said, will be “Talk down, not take down.”
Among the skills the officers will be taught are “ways to communicate more effectively,” Tucker said, adding the officers will also learn to recognize the “notion of implicit bias.”
Nothing that city officials did, however, seemed to suffice: Some 25 “civil rights and social justice” organizers met at the National Action Alliance headquarters headed by Rev. Al Sharpton and announced a “March on Washington” set for Saturday, December 13, among other events in coming days.
Hana Levi Julian