Death sparks Washington race march

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Published: Friday 5th December 2014 by The News Editor

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Civil rights leaders have condemned the decision not to charge a white New York City police officer over the chokehold death of a black man and are planning a march and a summit on racial justice in Washington.

The case of Eric Garner – combined with the decision by a grand jury last week not to charge the white officer who shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri – stirred a national conversation about race, police training and the grand jury process. Unlike Mr Brown’s shooting, Mr Garner’s arrest was captured on videotape.

A day after protests erupted in New York over the decision not to charge the officer over Mr Garner’s death, civil rights leaders pinned their hopes on a national investigation.

Meanwhile demonstrators protested for a second night in New York City and turned out in other cities including Denver, Detroit and Minneapolis as politicians and others talked about better police training, body cameras and changes in the grand jury process to restore faith in the legal system.

Amid the tensions US attorney general Eric Holder presented the results of an investigation into police in Cleveland, Ohio, prompted by several highly-publicised police encounters, some of them deadly.

The Justice Department report said Cleveland police use excessive and unnecessary force far too often, were poorly trained in tactics and firearm use and endangered the public and fellow officers with their recklessness.

The results of the investigation came just a week after hundreds of people blocked a Cleveland freeway to protest over the Garner and Brown killings, along with the fatal shooting of a black 12-year-old boy by a white officer outside a Cleveland recreation centre.

Police said the officer thought the boy was holding a firearm, but he actually had an airsoft gun that shoots non-lethal plastic pellets.

In New York, National Urban League president Marc Morial said the lack of charges in Mr Garner’s death was “a travesty of justice”.

About 20 civil rights leaders met behind closed doors at the New York City headquarters of the Rev Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. Mr Sharpton, one of the country’s most outspoken civil rights activists, said a civil rights summit would be held following a December 13 march in Washington.

Mr Garner, 43, died as officers were attempting to arrest him for selling untaxed cigarettes on the street. The video, shot by an onlooker and widely viewed on the Internet, showed him telling a group of police officers to leave him alone as they tried to arrest him.

Officer Daniel Pantaleo responded by wrapping his arm around Mr Garner’s neck in what appeared to be a chokehold, which is banned under the New York Police Department’s policy.

Heavy-set Mr Garner, who had asthma, was heard repeatedly gasping: “I can’t breathe!” He later died at a hospital.

Police said 83 people were arrested in New York, mostly for disorderly conduct.

Officer Pantaleo’s lawyer, Stuart London, and police union officials however, say the grand jury was right; the policeman used an authorised takedown move, not a banned chokehold, against a man resisting arrest; and Mr Garner’s poor health was the main cause of his death.

The coroner ruled that the chokehold contributed to Mr Garner’s death.

Mr London expressed confidence that his client would not face federal prosecution. He said Officer Pantaleo heard Mr Garner say, “I can’t breathe”, but believed that once he got him down on the ground and put him on his side, he would be revived by paramedics.

Some legal experts said the Garner case, like the one in Ferguson, raised concerns about the influence local prosecutors have over the process of charging the police officers they work with on a daily basis.

Ekow Yankah, a professor at New York’s Cardozo School of Law, said: “It is hard to understand how a jury doesn’t see any probable cause that a crime has been committed or is being committed when looking at that video, especially.”

Mr Garner’s widow, Esaw, said she had no faith in the local prosecutors.

“As far as the police and the (district attorney), there was no sincerity from day one,” she said on the Today show.

Mr Holder has said federal prosecutors will conduct their own investigation into Mr Garner’s death. The New York Police Department will also investigate to determine whether Officer Pantaleo acted against police policy and commissioner William Bratton said interviews would begin today.

Another case returned to the mix yesterday when a white former police chief in South Carolina was charged with murder over the 2011 shooting of an unarmed black man after an argument at a town hall meeting. The officer’s lawyer accused prosecutors of taking advantage of national outrage towards police to secure the indictment.

And in Los Angeles, police chief Charlie Beck said three officers broke deadly-force rules when they shot an unarmed man last year on live television after a high-speed chase.

In Phoenix, Arizona, protesters planned a vigil and march against a separate fatal shooting by a white police officer that involved another black, unarmed drug suspect.

Published: Friday 5th December 2014 by The News Editor

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