Crowds Chant "I Can't Breathe" in Protest of Grand Jury Decision in Eric Garner Case as Police Amp Up Patrols
By Brynn Gingras, Jonathan Dienst and Alexandra Leon
First published on Dec. 3, 2014 on NBCNewYork.com
Hours after a grand jury cleared an NYPD officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, crowds gathered at the site on Staten Island where the 43-year-old father died as others began a silent "lie-down" protest at Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan and still others marched toward Times Square shouting, "I can't breathe!"
Some headed toward Rockefeller Center in an apparent effort to disrupt the tree lighting ceremony, but were unable to get past police. Later, demonstrators marched on the West Side Highway near the 40s and 50s, gridlocking it for blocks at a time. There were also backups at the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, the Lincoln Tunnel and the Brooklyn Bridge.
Crowds gathered at Times Square, Union Square and Foley Square following the grand jury's decision Wednesday not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was seen on amateur video wrapping his hand around Garner's neck July 17 as the heavyset, asthmatic man gasped for air.
Around 30 people were arrested by late Wednesday night, police said. There have been no reports of injuries.
NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said earlier in the week that the NYPD was anticipating protests and that the department had been preparing for them for months.
Extra patrols were deployed at Rockefeller Plaza, and to the site of the chokehold in Tompkinsville, Staten Island, where several protesters rallied outside a store chanting, "No justice, no peace." A police spokesman said mobile units were in place to respond to protests developing across the city.
City officials and business owners pleaded for calm, "constructive" demonstrations.
"We all agree that demonstrations and free speech are valuable contributions to debate, and that violence and disorder are not only wrong -- but hurt the critically important goals we are trying to achieve together," Mayor de Blasio said shortly after the grand jury decision was announced.
Protesters like Doug Brinson said they were shocked by the lack of indictment.
“Not to indict the man is like a double slap in your face,” Brinson said. “It’s like stomping you down on the ground.”
Operators of some local businesses said they were more worried about outsiders causing trouble than Staten Island residents.
“If you worry about people coming from outside Staten Island, like agitators, that could be bad,” said Ed Varoulo of Hypno-Tronic comics on Stuyvesant Place. “I think it’s good as long as we don’t have to pull the gates down and close early.”
"I'm doing this for my ancestors and for all of the blood that has shed in America," said Talibah Newman, who joined the lie-down protest at Grand Central. "As a black woman in America, I feel numb."
Eric Garner's mother Gwen Carr asked supporters Wednesday to "make a statement, but make it in peace."
The protests were reminiscent of the ones that shut down major highways and bridges last week after a grand jury in Ferguson decided not to indict the police officer who shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Protests against the Staten Island grand jurors' decision were planned in other cities across the country, including in Washington, D.C., and Ferguson, Missouri.
The Rev. Al Sharpton announced Wednesday he and the Garners, along with the families of Michael Brown and Akai Gurley, will lead a national march in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 13.
Neighbors, friends and family members held a vigil outside Gavilanes' apartment at 1480 West 46 Street Saturday evening.