Protesters block NY traffic after officer cleared in chokehold death

Protesters block NY traffic after officer cleared in chokehold death
A man holding a child walks past protesters demanding justice for the death of Eric Garner in Manhattan.

NEW YORK - Thousands of protesters shouted at police and clogged streets of Manhattan on Wednesday, angered by a New York City grand jury's decision not to charge a white police officer in the chokehold death of an unarmed black man.

Largely peaceful demonstrations gathered strength and snarled traffic in locations throughout the city, including Grand Central Terminal, Times Square and near Rockefeller Center, after it was announced that no criminal charges would be brought against officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner in July.

However, the US Justice Department said it was investigating whether Garner's civil rights had been violated.

Garner, a 43-year-old father of six, was accused of illegally selling cigarettes on a sidewalk when Pantaleo put him in a chokehold from behind and tackled him with the help of other officers. Police said he had resisted arrest. The city's medical examiner previously ruled the death a homicide.

The deadly encounter on Staten Island, New York City's smallest borough, was captured on video, which quickly spread over the Internet and fueled debate about how US police use force, particularly against minorities.

It was the second grand jury in just over a week to decline to prosecute a white policeman in the death of an unarmed black man. The decision by grand jurors in Ferguson, Missouri, in the death of black teenager Michael Brown sparked a spasm of violence, with businesses burned and looted.

By contrast, Wednesday's protests in New York were civil, with about 30 arrests by mid-evening, although police were clearly showing restraint and allowing demonstrators to express their views. Marchers snaked through midtown Manhattan streets, chanting and bumping up against throngs of tourists in New York for the holiday season.

One of several "die-ins," with demonstrators lying down in silent protest, occurred about a block from where the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting ceremony was under way. Police blockaded the street, preventing marchers from interrupting the nationally televised event.

Disparate clusters of marchers, some numbering several hundred strong, crossed through Times Square a number of times, and one group brought traffic on the West Side Highway along the Hudson River to a standstill.

Keiha Souley, 35, was driving his taxi cab on Broadway when protesters blocked traffic. As he chanted along with demonstrators, he said he did not mind the hold up. "You've got to stand up sometime," he said.

'No Fergusons'

On Staten Island, near the site where Garner was apprehended, Daniel Skelton, a black 40-year-old banker, spoke loudly as he voiced his outrage: "A black man's life just don't matter in this country."

Garner's stepfather Benjamin Carr, also at the scene, consoled another angry man in a car. "We don't want no Fergusons here," Carr said. "All we want is peace."

Protests numbering in the low hundreds were also reported in Washington, D.C., and Oakland, California.

The Justice Department said it would investigate the Garner case. It is already probing the circumstances of the Missouri shooting. "Our prosecutors will conduct an independent, thorough, fair and expeditious investigation," US Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters in Washington. 

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