NY Took Quick Precautions After in-Custody Death


The police killings of two unarmed black men came barely three weeks apart, generating immediate and potentially volatile outrage.

But compared with the violent aftermath of Michael Brown’s shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, the fallout from the chokehold death of Eric Garner in New York now seems notable for what’s been absent: no guns pointed at raging protesters, no billowing tear gas, no lengthy delay in revealing an officer’s name, no National Guard troops.

The relative calm in New York followed a carefully calibrated response by city and police officials intended to neutralize possible unrest. The response drew on the lessons from other high-profile use-of-force cases involving black victims that roiled the city in the late 1990s.

“What you want in a democracy is the ability to express your concerns, but you don’t want it to spill over into disorder,” Police Commissioner William Bratton said. “I think we’ve had a very informed and reasonable response to the issues raised by everybody. There’s been no violence.”

Initial outrage over Garner’s July 17 death was fueled by an amateur video showing an arresting officer appearing to put him in a chokehold, banned under police policy, and Garner gasping “I can’t breathe” before falling unconscious. The next day Mayor Bill de Blasio postponed a family vacation, spoke with black community leaders and called a news conference with Bratton.

De Blasio, a Democrat, called the death a “terrible tragedy” and the video “very troubling.” Bratton conceded “this would appear to have been a chokehold.” Both promised a thorough investigation.

Police commanders reached out to community activists and offered condolences to Garner’s family. Two days after the death, the NYPD released the name of the officer and announced he had been placed on desk duty. On July 31, de Blasio and Bratton sat next to Al Sharpton at a City Hall roundtable.

Demonstrations after Garner’s death have been peaceful, even after the medical examiner ruled it a homicide. A rally in Times Square last week resulted in only five arrests for minor offenses and no serious clashes. NYPD officials said Tuesday they’re in contact with organizers of a Sharpton-led march planned for Saturday.

The challenges harken back to the torture of Abner Louima by an officer in 1997 and the death of Amadou Diallo in a hail of 41 bullets fired by four white officers in 1999. Both cases sparked demonstrations resulting in hundreds of arrests and frayed then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s already tense relationship with the black community.

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