Two weeks after a Missouri grand jury declined to indict the police officer who killed unarmed teen Michael Brown in August, and days after a New York City grand jury handed down the same decision in the case of Eric Garner, protests against police impunity have continued to grow larger and louder across the country.
In Berkeley, protests that started peacefully on the University of California campus turned violent for the second day in a row Sunday, as protesters clashed with police, throwing rocks and bottles that were met with tear gas. Large protests have taken place across the Bay Area, including in Oakland and San Francisco.
In New York, protesters took to the streets to protest the Ferguson decision, and then came out again in the thousands last week to demand justice for Eric Garner, the Staten Island man killed in a chokehold while being arrested by NYPD officers. A coalition of protesters and social justice groups have now announced a "week of outrage," to start today and culminate in a "millions march" next Saturday.
Protesters intended to target Wall Street, Times Square, and Union Square in a series of actions Monday. They also planned to "shut down" the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Monday evening, and to disrupt a New York City visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. On Monday morning, a group of activists stormed the Verrazano Bridge during rush hour. The protesters unveiled banners reading "Eric Garner," "Mike Brown," and "Black Lives Matter," and laid coffins on the freeway, which connects Staten Island to Brooklyn, before leaving.
That action lasted seven minutes "in honor of the seven minutes that the NYPD and EMTs were recorded not providing medical care to Eric Garner after Officer Pantaleo applied a chokehold to him," organizers said.
The bridge shutdown was also intended to symbolically keep NYPD officers — many of whom live on Staten Island — from getting to work.
"If Staten Island is going to allow their cops to get away with murdering our people, then we refuse to allow all the officers who live in Staten to come terrorize the rest of our communities across the city," Aidge Patterson, an organizer with Peoples' Justice and Cop Watch who was at the protest, said in a statement.
The protests continued at City Hall early Monday afternoon. New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams and 22 council members held a "die-in" outside the building, while members of the clergy entered it, singing "We Shall Overcome."
Activists, who met Sunday to plan their strategy, aimed to unite the tens of thousands already marching nationwide into "a movement of millions demanding that this slow genocide must stop," said Carl Dix, co-founder of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, one of the groups at the strategy meeting.
"Beginning Monday, a mosaic of all New Yorkers including artists, students, teachers, religious leaders and lawyers, will unite in a weeklong course of dedicated non-violent solidarity not only to disrupt, but actually move towards upending a system that condones police brutality and murder," the group announced.
In addition to justice for Brown, Garner, Akai Gurley, and all victims of police brutality, New York protesters also demanded an end to "broken windows" police policies, the removal of Bill Bratton as police commissioner, and dropped charges for all the protesters arrested in recent weeks.
The New York protests against police racism and impunity were galvanized by the visibility of the Ferguson movement, but demonstrators had taken to the streets even before Garner's death was recorded by a bystander — bringing new attention to the issue after the footage went viral.
But police killings in New York City — often with a racial component — are hardly a novelty. An investigation by the Daily News found that, in the past 15 years, on-duty NYPD officers killed 179 people. The paper looked at all cases following the 1999 murder of Amadiou Diallo, who was killed by a hail of bullets outside his home when officers mistook his wallet for a gun.
Of the police killings tallied by the paper, 27 percent involved unarmed victims, and 86 percent involved black or Hispanic victims. Only three of those deaths led to indictments, and only one officer was convicted.
'This is a watershed moment. It's clear that the system is broken.'
The NYPD will conduct its own review of the Garner incident to determine whether the officers involved violated the department's conduct policy, which prohibits the use of chokeholds.
But the latest grand jury decision, and the Ferguson one that preceded it, renewed debate over the process that is used to prosecute police officers accused of crimes. Advocates against police impunity have long called for the appointment of special prosecutors to review these cases — as opposed to local prosecutors who are perceived as being too close to law enforcement to operate fairly.
Some elected officials have now joined that chorus, with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo considering the appointment of special prosecutors, and New York public advocate Letitia James and some assemblymen proposing special prosecutors for police killings of unarmed people — a proposal critics say could lead to "political" appointments.
"This is a watershed moment," James told the Associated Press. "It's clear that the system is broken and an independent prosecutor is needed."
On Monday, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman threw his weight behind that call, asking Cuomo for the authority for investigate deaths at the hands of police at the state — rather than local — level.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, New York mayor Bill de Blasio refused to endorse the grand jury's decision not to charge Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer who killed Garner. Repeatedly grilled on his position on the verdict, de Blasio said he respects "the process" but skirted questions about whether he agreed with the result of that process. Instead, de Blasio doubled down on comments he made after the grand jury announcement.
"Chirlane and I have had to talk to Dante for years about the dangers he may face," the mayor said, referring to his African American wife and biracial 16-year-old son. "He's a good young man, law abiding young man who never would think to do anything wrong. And yet because of a history that still hangs over us, the dangers he may face, we've had to literally train him, as families have all over this city for decades, in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers—who are there to protect him."
Noting a mantra used in the recent protests, de Blasio added: "It's a phrase… that should be self-evident. But our history sadly requires us to say, black lives matter."
Those comments came under fire by the city's police union, which said officers felt "thrown under the bus" by the mayor.
"[Mayor de Blasio] spoke about, 'We have to teach our children that their interaction with the police and that they should be afraid of New York City police officers.' That's not true," Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said in response. "We have to teach our children, our sons and our daughters, no matter what they look like, to respect New York City police officers, teach them to comply with New York City police officers even if they think it's unjust."
But de Blasio took up the issue once again on Sunday.
"We have to have an honest conversation in this country about the history of racism and the problem that has caused parents to feel their children may be in danger in their dynamics with police, when in fact the police are there to protect them," he said, speaking on ABC. "What parents have done for decades who have children of color, especially young men of color, is train them to be very careful whenever they have an encounter with a police officer. It's different for a white child. That's just the reality of this country."
Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi