New York prepared for the funeral Friday of a man apparently inadvertently shot by a policeman in a dark stairwell, after further protests over a grand jury decision not to indict another officer for the chokehold death of an unarmed black man.
The city has seen two nights of largely peaceful demonstrations after no charges were brought against New York Police Department Officer Daniel Pantaleo for his role in a confrontation that killed Eric Garner, a father of six. A bystander recorded the incident on video.
The reaction to 43-year-old Garner’s death echoes the outrage that followed a grand jury’s decision not to indict another white policeman for killing an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has mounted a civil rights review of the Missouri shooting and promised a full investigation of the New York case.
Activists say the incidents are evidence of police mistreatment of members of minority groups, and cities across the United States, including Boston, Chicago and Washington, saw sympathy protests on Thursday.
Reverend Al Sharpton, a longtime civil rights leader, was expected to speak on Friday at the Brooklyn funeral of Akai Gurley, 28, who was killed last month in the dimly lit stairwell of a housing project in the borough by a rookie police officer who said his gun discharged accidentally.
New York police have largely tried to take a soft approach during this week’s protests, steering marchers away from a nationally televised Christmas tree lighting ceremony on Wednesday, but otherwise allowing marchers to go their own way.
Tensions briefly erupted late Thursday in Times Square as about 3,000 protesters blocked a major interaction, chanting at police, “Who do you protect?”
Hundreds of officers responded, shoving protesters on to sidewalks. A police spokesman said Friday more than 200 protesters had been arrested, but declined to provide additional details.
Sharon Gordon, 52, of Matawan, New Jersey, said she hoped politicians would take heed.
“There’s been a confluence of social media and outrage,” she said. “I do believe for the first time we’re about to make a change.”
In a sign of national concern about the issue U.S. President Barack Obama has tapped Philadelphia’s top cop to recommend ways to rebuild public trust in police.
“There is a tension, there are real issues,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said in an interview. “They feel that the police service they are getting is not fair and not impartial. They lost faith in us to a large extent, and we’ve got to restore that.”
Unlike the Aug. 9 shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Missouri, Garner’s encounter with New York police was captured on video by a bystander with a mobile phone. It showed Pantaleo wrapping his arm around Garner’s throat and wrestling him to the sidewalk as three other officers helped subdue him.
Garner repeatedly gasped, “I can’t breathe” – a phrase protesters have taken up a rallying cry.
He was being arrested for allegedly selling cigarettes illegally in Staten Island in July.
Pantaleo could still face disciplinary action from an internal police investigation, his lawyer said. That investigation is likely to focus on whether Pantaleo used a chokehold, banned by police department regulations.
Pantaleo told the grand jury he used a proper takedown technique and never put pressure on Garner’s neck, according to his lawyer, Stuart London. The city’s medical examiner has said Garner’s death was caused by compressing his neck and chest, with his asthma and obesity contributing.
Federal prosecutors have vowed a swift review of the incident, a move that U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York praised on Friday.
“People are angry. There are people all across New York who are very upset because they feel like justice isn’t working for too many New Yorkers and too many Americans,” Gillibrand said told MSNBC.
“When you have a man who was committing an arguably low-level offense end up dead because of the use of lethal force, you have an issue.”
(Additional reporting by Joseph Ax; Writing by Steve Gorman and Scott Malone; Editing by Bernadette Baum)