Newsday
December 5, 2014


Some protesters detained in Times Square, Chinatown as massive crowds move though Manhattan in second night of Garner protests

By ELLEN YAN, EMILY NGO AND NICOLE FULLER

NYPD and protesters outraged over the Eric Garner case faced off late Thursday night in Chinatown and Times Square as officers detained those who continued staging sit-ins or "die-ins" on the roadways.

They were brief but tumultuous episodes amid otherwise peaceful marches for change in the justice system -- an outpouring of emotion expressed all day in major cities across the country.

Just before 11 p.m., a large group of protesters swarmed Times Square and cursed at an officer inside a police vehicle. Minutes later, officers dragged several people into the middle of the street, shoved them to the ground and detained them. They started pushing protesters back out of the roadways, shoving screaming people with batons.

"Everyone on the sidewalk or you're going to get arrested!" an officer barked

Some protesters yelled: "Murderers!" Others shouted, "Stand peaceful!"

Some threw coins, a water bottle and a pen at the officers, while others, pushed to all four corners of the intersection at Seventh Avenue and 42nd Street, chanted "I can't breathe" and "Who do you protect? Who do you serve?"

"Everyone on the sidewalk or you're going to get arrested!" an officer barked

Some protesters yelled: "Murderers!" Others shouted, "Stand peaceful!"

Some threw coins, a water bottle and a pen at the officers, while others, pushed to all four corners of the intersection at Seventh Avenue and 42nd Street, chanted "I can't breathe" and "Who do you protect? Who do you serve?"

Officers shouted, "Get back," before the crowd dispersed 30 minutes later.

About the same time, a group of protesters crossed back from Brooklyn into Manhattan's Chinatown, where officers unfurled a large, orange banner between the sidewalk and roadway, It marked a "police line" that protesters were not supposed to cross.

Officers tried to lift some protesters sitting on the roadway with their mock coffins, and others bended down to talk to protesters to convince them to move.

Several were detained, with zip ties around their wrists.

The NYPD said it would release the total number of arrests Friday morning.

By 12:30 a.m. Friday, the protesters had largely dispersed in Times Square and elsewhere, though police kept vigil.

It was a night in which thousands of marchers jammed Manhattan's landmark arteries and part of Brooklyn over the Eric Garner case -- some carrying mock coffins and staging "die-ins."

In a second night of rallies, crowds calling for equal justice in chants and signs were constantly on the move. They flowed one way when police blocked the other way, streaming onto the Brooklyn Bridge, the West Side Highway, Herald Square, Times Square and business-lined Canal Street and Broadway.

Some tried to shut down the Holland Tunnel before police repelled them. At one point, police shut down the Staten Island Ferry terminal on the Manhattan side due to the protests.

Here and there, protesters would lie down on the street in silence, staging "die-ins." They did so on busy Canal Street and in front of Brooklyn's Barclays Center, where scores of protesters stretched out next to mock coffins marked with names of those supposedly killed at the hands of police.

At one point on the West Side Highway, demonstrators conducted a sit-in right in front of a line of police. Some of those who refused to move were arrested.

"Shame on you!" protesters yelled at cops.

Later in the night, hundreds of protesters converged on West 34th Street and Sixth Avenue outside of Macy's department store, chanting, "How so you spell racist? NYPD!"

The protesters faced off with cops -- some wearing plastic face shields and carrying zip-tie handcuffs. But no arrests were made there.

Police vehicles followed officers on foot and on motorcycles alongside the marchers. The NYPD was out in force, from the air and ground, blocking access to some areas but giving the marchers leeway. Officers stopped cars that tried to move between protesters.

Many drivers honked or stuck their thumbs up in a show of support, even as protesters brought traffic to a standstill.

"I've never seen this level of average citizens at our demonstrations," said one Foley Square protest organizer, Daniel Majesty, 33, a hip-hop artist and member of the Bronx Justice Committee and Cop Watch. "This is not your usual cast of characters. This is a people-power protest."

One North Carolina resident attending a New York City business conference said she was amazed at the crowds also but not sure if the protests were the right way to go.

"There's other ways to do it," said Barbara Mallett, 67, a small town mayor. "I think it would be at the polls."

The show of might and dissatisfaction at police use of force and community relations was just one of several demonstrations around the country Thursday night. From Boston to Baltimore, and from Washington, D.C., to Pittsburgh, Chicago and Denver, diversity in race and age was seen in the crowds that came out to protest several recent fatal encounters between blacks and police.

The latest round of protests was sparked by Wednesday's announcement that a Staten Island grand jury did not indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who held Garner in an apparent chokehold before Garner died. The news came weeks after a Ferguson grand jury's decision not to indict a white police officer in the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.

Michelle Fei, 38, of Manhattan, came with her infant daughter and 2-year-old son, who had painted on his face the phrase "We can't breathe," Garner's last words on a Staten Island sidewalk as officers tried to arrest him on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.

"As a mother, you want to shield your children from the darkness of the world," Fei said. "But they have to learn to fight for justice. We are living in an unjust system and one that is racist."

Canal Street in Chinatown was a virtual parking lot, as hundreds of demonstrators headed toward the Holland Tunnel. When drivers beeped in support, the marchers cheered wildly.

Three moving company workers had posted a sign on their dashboard reading: "Ferguson is everywhere."

As a crush of demonstrators marched north on Seventh Avenue near 36th Street, Great Neck resident Joshua Friedman rolled down the window of the white stretch limousine he was driving and high-fived several protesters.

"This is part of change," said Friedman, 54, who said he was on his way to pick up customers at a Knicks game at Madison Square Garden. "They'll have to wait."

Greg Victorin, 34, was driving to work on Fifth Avenue when he had to stop until a large group had passed.

Victorin, who owns a cleaning business, was late to work for the second day in a row but did not mind the protest.

"It's for a good cause," he said.

But an Oceanside resident leaving her Manhattan job was frustrated at getting stuck on Canal Street.

"Is this going to change it? No," said the woman, gesturing toward the protesters.

As the march wound its way to Holland Tunnel, police were already there, blocking the way. Other protesters walked on Broadway, taking up the entire street for several blocks as they moved north.

On the Brooklyn Bridge, police blocked access to vehicle lanes but allowed protesters on the walkways, along with their mock black coffins.

Park Slope resident Lynn Kowalewski held a sign with a Martin Luther King Jr. quote from the 1960s: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

"It's just as relevant today," she said.

In the marches in big cities Thursday night, many of the themes and chants, like "Hands up, don't shoot," were the same. Protesters said they want police to stop targeting minorities and for justice to be applied equally.

In Chicago, hundreds were thwarted in efforts to march to Soldier Field, where a Bears-Cowboys football game was scheduled, while in Detroit, a "die-in" was staged at a major, downtown park at midday as temperatures hovered around freezing.

In Denver, students from at least four high schools protested in a six-mile march to the Capitol, and in Minneapolis, people stopped traffic on I-35 before moving on to City Hall.

In Manhattan's Foley Square, Bronx resident and former Marine Hiawathi Collins, 47, held a sign saying "Black lives matter" and voiced fear for the future after the lack of indictments in the Garner and Ferguson cases.

"It's not a black issue," Collins said. "It's a community issue."

The protests came hours after Mayor Bill de Blasio commended officers for their handling of the demonstrations, while the head of the rank and file union accused him of throwing his members "under the bus."

It was also the same day a state Supreme Court judge approved the release of limited, broad facts in connection with the grand jury.

Earlier in the day at a police union news conference in Manhattan, Patrick Lynch, head of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, went after the mayor, saying: "While the mayor was behind a microphone, New York City police were out there protecting people's right to protest in the middle of the night while keeping residents of the city safe.

"What we need is City Hall to remind citizens we should be afraid of criminals, not police." Lynch said. He said de Blasio should be telling New Yorkers that "it is a crime to resist arrest even if you believe the arrest is unjust."

Later, at his own news conference with NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, the mayor detailed retraining for about 20,000 officers and sought to distance union leaders' sentiments from rank and file officers' reactions.

"I've now for this whole year talked about my immense respect for this police department . . . so I never get caught up in what critics say, particularly if they are doing it for their own agenda," the mayor said at the NYPD's new academy in Queens.

"I think people in this city saw a man die who shouldn't have died. . . . I think it's important to speak to that reality, particularly when it's not an isolated reality.

"And if there are critics who don't like that, I would suggest to them that they look more honestly at the reality we're facing and think about the changes we need to make."

Bratton said the officers involved in the Garner case will be brought in for questioning by the department's internal affairs unit beginning Friday. They will be accompanied by their lawyers, officials said.

The NYPD could not talk with them while they were being investigated by the Staten Island district attorney's office.

Bratton and de Blasio also highlighted a $35 million, three-day retraining program for about 20,000 police officers, senior-ranking cops and other NYPD staff at the academy. The police will learn techniques to more safely restrain those who resist arrest, officials said.

In another effort to address public concerns, state Justice Stephen J. Rooney approved the release of limited, broad facts in connection with the grand jury decision.

In granting the request by Richmond County District Attorney Dan Donovan, Rooney said he had to balance the interests of keeping grand jury proceedings secret with the public interest, an apparent reference to recent fatal encounters between police and blacks.

"Somewhat uniquely in this matter, the maintenance of trust in our criminal justice system lies at the heart of these proceedings, with implications affecting the continuing vitality of our core beliefs in fairness, and impartiality, at a crucial moment in the nation's history, where public confidence in the evenhanded application of these core values among a diverse citizenry is being questioned," Rooney said in his decision.

He allowed Donovan to mention that the grand jury sat for nine weeks and heard from 50 witnesses, 22 of them civilians, and that 60 exhibits were presented, including four videos, records on NYPD policies and procedures, medical records about Garner's treatment, photographs from the scene and autopsy photos.

Shortly after the grand jury's decision was released Wednesday afternoon, Donovan had asked the court if he could release certain details about the grand jury proceedings, which by law are secret.

Rooney also ordered Donovan's court request to remain sealed.

Meanwhile, in a call to unify, de Blasio sent an open email letter to New Yorkers on Thursday morning titled "The city we need to be."

"We must be mindful that issues surrounding policing and civil rights are not just an issue for people of color. . . . They're a problem for all Americans who care about justice," he said.

The mayor's call came after 83 demonstrators were arrested mostly on charges of disorderly conduct, obstructing vehicles and resisting arrest.

The demonstrations began Wednesday after the grand jury's decision, with protesters lying down in Grand Central Terminal, walking through traffic on the West Side Highway and blocking the Brooklyn Bridge.

And hundreds converged on the heavily secured area around the annual Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting with a combination of professional-looking signs and hand-scrawled placards reading, "Black lives matter" and "Fellow white people, wake up."

The Staten Island grand jury found that Pantaleo, 29, should not face any criminal charges stemming from the videotaped confrontation.

Hours later, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department will launch a civil rights investigation into Garner's death.

The demonstrations came nine days after violence erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, after a grand jury declined to bring charges against a white officer who fatally shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, joined by civil rights leaders late Thursday morning, announced a march on Washington, D.C., on Dec. 13 to call for federal action in police brutality cases.

Sharpton said the grand jury system on the state level is broken and seems "to lack the capacity to deal with police when you are dealing with questions of criminality and killers."

Marc Morial, chief executive of the National Urban League, said there is a "reawakening about the cause of justice in this nation."

De Blasio sounded a somber note without directly criticizing the grand jury decision in an interview that aired Thursday morning on hip-hop radio station Hot 97.

"I don't judge any judicial proceeding. I don't judge any investigations that I'm not a part of," de Blasio said.

"I watched the video as a human being, and I saw a man die who shouldn't have died. And I saw him crying out for his life in a way that made me just feel something went horribly wrong and can't happen again."

The mayor said he sees the public as a stakeholder in the process to reform police-community relations, and changes affecting minorities have already taken hold in the form of fewer stop-and-frisks, fewer marijuana-related arrests and a pilot program to test body cameras on the NYPD.

"All these things are changing because people demanded it over the last year, so keep demanding it," de Blasio said in the radio interview.

Eric Garner's widow and mother appeared Thursday on "CBS This Morning" alongside Sharpton.

Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, was asked what justice would look like.

"Justice is where everyone who was involved in my son's death that day stands accountable . . . because that was so inhumane what they did. . . . I mean, no mother, no grandmother should have to ever go through the pain that we went through. It's just -- it's -- horrible."

Pantaleo, stripped of his gun and shield after the confrontation, issued a statement shortly after the grand jury's decision became public, saying it was "never my intention to harm anyone and I feel very bad about the death of Mr. Garner."

Lynch, at a noon news conference Thursday, defended Pantaleo.

"He is an Eagle Scout, literally. Born and raised in the community he works in. He is college educated and a professional, mature police officer who is motivated to serve this great city." He said the PBA will be supporting Pantaleo with attorneys to defend him as he goes through a federal and NYPD investigation. He said Pantaleo may lose his job.

Lynch said Pantaleo will "have to live with that death." He described Pantaleo as an "honest" man who testified before a grand jury without immunity "which he didn't have to do."

Now that the grand jury process is finished, the NYPD is putting its internal investigation of Pantaleo and the other officers who were involved into high gear, a law enforcement official said.

Attorneys for Garner's family have said they intend to file a lawsuit.

With Maria Alvarez, Alison Fox, Noelani Montero, Dan Rivoli and Tom Brune