Civil rights leaders on Thursday called for boycotts, a march on Washington and a summit on civil rights later this month in protest of the grand jury decision not to charge a white police officer in the death of a black Staten Island man.
Calling for 2015 to be “a year for justice and jobs,” National Urban League President Marc Morial said the decision Wednesday not to bring charges against Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner was “a travesty of justice.”
The triggered protests around the country and sent thousands into New York’s streets, where they marched, chanted and blocked traffic. Police said 83 people were arrested, mostly on disorderly conduct charges.
Demonstrators blocked traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge and West Side Highway and lay down in Grand Central Terminal. Police, some in riot gear, followed the groups as they roamed the city. In the Staten Island area where Garner died, people chanted, “I can’t breathe!” and “Hands up, don’t choke!”
In Ferguson, about 200 people marched through the downtown business district to the suburban courthouse where the grand jury that declined to indict Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson in 18-year-old Michael Brown’s death met for three months.
“Another no indictment!” shouted high schooler Janie McCowan. The crowd responded: “I can’t breathe!” McCowan and four other black teens walked in a circle saying, “Am I next?”
Cries of “Black lives matter” were heard in San Francisco, Philadelphia, Atlanta, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., most of them peaceful protests.
About 20 civil rights leaders met behind closed doors Thursday at Al Sharpton’s National Action Network headquarters. Sharpton said a civil rights summit will be held following a Dec. 13 march on Washington on topics including education and boycotts.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) defended the grand jury decision, saying the outcome would have been the same if Garner had been white. He said Garner’s death was largely the result of his health problems, which included obesity, diabetes and heart trouble.
He said police were right to ignore Garner’s pleas that he couldn’t breathe.
“The fact that he was able to say it meant he could breathe,” said King, the son of a police officer. “And if you’ve ever seen anyone locked up, anyone resisting arrest, they’re always saying, ‘You’re breaking my arm, you’re killing me, you’re breaking my neck.’”
Former Mayor David Dinkins, whose leadership during the 1991 Crown Heights riots was partially blamed for three days of mayhem, said the grand jury decisions in New York and Ferguson should lead to a “vital and honest discussion” about race and policing.