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‘Nothing Has Changed’: Protesters Rally On 5th Anniversary Of Eric Garner’s Death

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On the fifth anniversary of the death of Eric Garner, a youth-led rally marched around City Hall and in front of NYPD headquarters, demanding that the officer who fatally choked Garner be fired.

This year, the annual protest came a day after the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York announced that the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, would not face federal prosecution for his actions. Police department disciplinary hearings on Pantaleo’s conduct concluded in June and Police Commissioner James O’Neill is expected to make a determination on whether to fire or otherwise discipline Pantaleo by August, though that decision could well be kept secret.

“Five years after the mayor and the police commissioner and the rest of the city turned their back on Eric and Eric’s family, and have failed to hold any of the 13 officers who were there that day accountable, we’re here to say that that ain’t right,” said Darien X, a 24-year-old youth organizer with Make the Road New York. “That ain’t justice.”

Protesters want to see Pantaleo and the other officers present when Garner was killed fired from the police force, Darien said, but they also want to see systemic change. “We want an end to this kind of militaristic policing in our communities. Young people make up the majority of police stops, and that means that any one of us could be another Eric.”

“This makes my heart smile,” Eric Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, told the crowd in Foley Square. “Especially the youth, because you are the ones who are usually targeted. We can’t let that be the norm. You deserve the right to walk in the street like everyone else.”

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams attended the rally, and told Gothamist that he lays the inaction on Garner’s killing at the mayor’s feet.

“The idea all of us in the city, the leftist activists, have to waste time convincing the self-described progressive Bill de Blasio to fire the man that killed somebody on camera is patently absurd,” Williams said. “The man is running for president trying to talk about what he’s done in New York City; this issue is why he won in the first place! It’s a complete insult to the people who helped get him elected, especially the black and brown people.”

The NYPD has made progress during de Blasio’s tenure, Williams said, “except for the areas where we need it the most: transparency and accountability. There’s less people arrested, there’s less use of force, less shootings. But if you can’t fire Daniel Pantaleo, that’s what your legacy’s going to be.”

DeVon Lee, 25, who grew up in Garner’s Tompkinsville neighborhood and works at Against the Grain barbershop on the same block where Garner fell, told a reporter that “the difference between 2014 and now—there’s no difference in how we’re treated.”

“I’m a fan of his,” Lee said of Mayor de Blasio. “Yes, he has a biracial family. Yes, he pops up in certain neighborhoods. But what has he done? Because it’s still happening. It’s still occurring. You’re the mayor. Use your authority. Because nothing has changed.”

James Clanton, who has lived in the area since 1979, agreed that there has been no meaningful change with how the police interact with him and his neighbors.

“Instead of upholding the law, they feel they are the law,” Clanton said. “That’s where the problems come from.”

Clanton added that he doesn’t “think too well of [the mayor]” or his presidential bid.

“I think he should be focused more on doing his mayoral duties right now instead of becoming President of the Untied States. Plus his track record is really not that great.”

The demonstration in Manhattan was peaceful, but the NYPD was clearly taking no chances. Steel police barricades lined the streets for blocks, police helicopters hovered over the event, officers on motor-scooters and bicycles rode in formation herding the crowd, and specialized units including the Disorder Control Unit and the Strategic Response Group, carrying portable LRAD units and braces of plastic cuffs for mass-arrests were on hand as well.

Even so, at several points along the march, protesters declined to accept the route the NYPD was attempting to set for them. The march paused at the south end of City Hall Park, informing police that they intended to march north on the roadway of Broadway rather than on the sidewalk. Police initially refused. “Please utilize the sidewalk to Broadway,” a senior officer repeatedly directed the crowd, using a portable LRAD.

Joo-Hyun Kang, the director of Communities United for Police Reform, negotiated with the police on behalf of the marchers. “New Yorkers should be able to protest this murder,” she said.

After several minutes, the police relented, and the march proceeded up Broadway. When the marchers passed through the arches of One Centre Street and into the courtyard outside One Police Plaza, police again attempted to corral them. Again, marchers declared their intention to proceed all the way into the courtyard, and again, after hurriedly conferring, police relented, falling back towards police headquarters. The crowd surged forward, depositing a mock coffin bearing Garner’s name at the foot of the concrete brutalist tower that houses the police department.

After a series of speeches by young people, the crowd staged a die in, lying down in the brick courtyard and tracing their bodies in chalk as police looked on impassively.

In Staten Island, a few dozen protesters marched from the ferry terminal to the spot on Bay Street where Garner fell. Later, some gathered outside Officer Pantaleo’s home.

Garner’s cousin, Benjamin Lawton, said that beyond the lack of police accountability, he was thinking about Garner’s young daughter, Legacy.

“She was three months old when they took Eric, now she’s five years old,” Lawton said. “Eric ain’t coming back. His child has to grow up without him. She doesn’t have one of her providers to help her get through college, to help her to get her feet on the ground to help her become a productive citizen in life. Those things have been robbed from this child.”





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