Speaking shortly after the Staten Island grand jury acquitted the police officer in the death of Eric Garner, President Barack Obama said Wednesday the decision underscores the need to strengthen the trust and accountability between communities and law enforcement.
Obama says he discussed the grand jury’s decision Wednesday with Attorney General Eric Holder. While not commenting on the decision specifically, he said there are “too many instances where people just do not have confidence that folks are being treated fairly.”
Obama says police have to deal with crime every day, but says they can do their jobs better if people have confidence in the law enforcement system.
“It is incumbent about all of us as Americans, regardless of race, region, faith, that we recognize this as an American problem and not just a black problem or a brown problem or a Native American problem. This is an American problem,” Obama said following an unrelated appearance. “When anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law, that’s a problem. And it’s my job as president to help solve it.”
The Justice Department said they will investigate Garner’s death, even though Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan said jurors found “no reasonable cause” to bring charges.
“Clearly,” Donovan said in a statement, “this matter was of special concern in that an unarmed citizen of our county had died in police custody. For that reason, a dedicated grand jury was impaneled exclusively to hear this case.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio said it was a “deeply emotional day” for the Garner family and for all New Yorkers, but urged peaceful demonstrations.
“Today’s outcome is one that many in our city did not want,” de Blasio said in a statement. “Yet New York City owns a proud and powerful tradition of expressing ourselves through non-violent protest. We trust that those unhappy with today’s grand jury decision will make their views known in the same peaceful, constructive way.”
About 35 to 45 protesters laid down on the floor of Grand Central Terminal during the evening rush hour. Some onlookers paused to gawk and take pictures in the main part of the terminal, near the famous clock. Other commuters just walked around them.
In Times Square, at least 200 protesters gathered shouting “I can’t breathe” and “Hands up, don’t shoot.” They carried signs that said: “Black lives matter,” “Fellow white people, wake up” and “Once again, no justice.”
Protester Meredith Reitman of Queens said she feels “horrified” and cried when she heard the verdict.