NEW YORK—Tensions flared in New York City on Wednesday as a grand jury announced that a white police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, would not be indicted in the death of a black man, Eric Garner.
While hundreds of protesters gathered in Manhattan and converged on the annual Christmas tree lighting in Rockefeller Plaza, a small group of locals also gathered in Staten Island where Garner died. Some were surprised at the outcome of the grand jury decision. Some were not surprised. Others were indignant and angry.
In Times Square a disparate group of mainly young people joined by a collective anger over the decision expressed a variety of sentiments. They lashed out at the police, racism, inequality, or all of above in combination.
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“I was a little surprised. I was just like: ‘Yes! We got this one in the bag,'” said Maria Caisar, 23, a medical researcher from Brooklyn who joined a gathering in Times Square.
“Racism is real,” she said. “We all need to acknowledge it and figure out a way to just create a better world for all of us.”
Garner, 43, was father to six children and died while in police custody last summer. Though his death initially spurred a number of protests, Wednesday’s grand jury announcement came after months of violence and protests nationwide following the shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. That police officer was also not indicted.
On Wednesday night in Harlem Esaw Garner, the wife of Eric Garner, said she is determined to get justice for her husband.
“He shouldn’t have been killed in that way, he shouldn’t have been killed in any way. He should be here celebrating Christmas and thanksgiving with his children and his grandchildren, but he can’t because a cop did wrong. Someone who’s supposed to do right did wrong, and he’s not held accountable for it.”
Brown’s death led to a number of violent acts in St. Louis and other cities, though the vast majority of protesters were peaceful. The decision in the Eric Garner case came only a week and a half after the Ferguson decision, prompting local politicians to call repeatedly for peaceful, law-abiding protests.
“We have to find a way forward together,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday night from Staten Island, adding that any demonstration must adhere to the law and not besmirch the memory of Garner or go against the wishes of his family for calm.
“This is now a national moment of grief,” he added. “We are dealing with centuries of racism that brought us through to today.”
Though the local grand jury has made their decision, a federal investigation will be underway. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the investigation on Wednesday night just hours after the grand jury decision was announced.
In an evening address, Holder said that the Department of Justice would investigate whether Garner suffered any civil rights violations when he was placed in a chokehold by Officer Pantaleo. The city’s chief medical examiner’s office determined that the chokehold contributed to Garner’s death.
The inquiry will be led by Loretta Lynch, the New York prosecutor whom President Barack Obama has chosen to replace Holder. Lynch’s confirmation by the Senate is expected as early as January.
The city’s Public Advocate Letitia James, who has been a leading national advocate for police-worn body cameras, lauded the federal investigation while calling for calm.
“Staten Island is not Ferguson,” she said, adding that amateur video footage of Garner’s deadly encounter with police could turn the tide. “This video has changed the conversation. This has to stop.”
James said that her office is asking New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for a special prosecutor in the case. She and other city leaders are also calling for a full disclosure of the evidence that the grand jury considered in making its decision.
Meanwhile, as news of the New York City grand jury decision reached Missouri, protesters took to the streets in Ferguson and downtown St. Louis. They blocked the federal courthouse there, preventing workers from leaving the building. Five were arrested, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
National protests in response to the grand jury decision are planned in numerous cities for Thursday evening.
Epoch Times reporters Petr Svab, Catherine Yang, and the Associated Press contributed to this report.