New York City Protests Eric Garner Decision

12/03/2014 05:57 pm ET | Updated Mar 11, 2015

NEW YORK -- New York City residents took to the streets on Wednesday after a grand jury said it would not bring charges in the death of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died in July after a police officer placed him in a chokehold.

Garner, 43, was being arrested for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes on July 17 when New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo placed him in an illegal chokehold. The medical examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide, but the grand jury said Wednesday it would not indict Pantaleo.

Demonstrators gathered across the city, from the Staten Island neighborhood where Garner died to high-traffic areas in midtown Manhattan. They assembled in Times Square, Union Square and Lincoln Center. They marched down Broadway and blocked traffic on the West Side Highway. Police scrambled to keep the crowd from disrupting the Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center. Nearly three dozen demonstrators were reportedly arrested, though the protests remained largely non-violent.

Late in the afternoon, a group of people appeared at Grand Central Station to stage a “die-in.” Protesters stretched out on the terminal floor to represent victims of police brutality. Police, who have been preparing for days for the protests, stood by.

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The protesters then marched toward Times Square, where they met up with a crowd that had already formed there. They moved through the streets, blocking traffic on Madison Avenue and heading north.

Near Times Square, protesters chanted "I can't breathe" and "Garner and Brown, shut it down," cheering as drivers in bumper-to-bumper traffic honked in unison.

times square

Jayson Williams, 32, of Staten Island, was among the protesters who gathered at Rockefeller Center. He said he joined the protest because he was moved after hearing Garner's family speak.

"[Garner's family] wants peace, they'll get peaceful protest," he said. "But the NYPD should want peace too. And our justice system should want justice. If an unarmed man is killed, the person who killed him should go to trial."

Harlem resident Brianna Miller, 26, who also joined the protest near Rockefeller Center, said demonstrators would "stay out here until the justice system wakes up."

"This is about racism and the way we're treated, but it's also about equal treatment for authorities who are supposed to protect us," Miller said.

Police set up barricades to block the demonstrators from disrupting the tree-lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center. An NYPD public information officer could not immediately confirm reports of arrests in the area.

Starting at about 8 p.m., a crowd of about 300 demonstrators marched from Times Square to 125th Street in Harlem, chanting, “No justice, no peace! Fuck the police!” As they passed through the Upper West Side, dozens of residents came to their windows to watch.

Tyra Morrissett, 39, marched around Times Square carrying a sign that insisted her life is worth more than 75 cents, a reference to the tax Garner was allegedly avoiding by selling loose cigarettes.

“Today I realized, America has no regard for my life,” Morrissett said, as tears rolled down her cheek. “And that really hurts my feelings. I’m so heartbroken right now, I can’t describe what it meant for us to not get an [indictment].”

Morrissett recalled that in Mobile, Ala., where she grew up, black and white people kept in their own “lanes.” But she expected something different in New York City.

“I was under the impression that when I stepped off the plane at JFK, that I could be equal,” she said, “and today that’s not true.”

Several reporters noted around 8:30 p.m. that a separate group of protesters had moved onto the West Side Highway and obstructed traffic there. Police officers in riot gear reportedly appeared on the West Side Highway shortly afterward.

At 10 p.m., hundreds of protesters took over the main terminal of Grand Central Station. The group chanted, “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” Diners sipped champagne in one of the terminal’s restaurants, and one of them appeared to flip off the protesters.

A crowd of protesters attempted to march into the Lincoln Tunnel at 10:30, but were blocked by police. Traffic in the tunnel was obstructed for about a half hour.

A car was found torched outside the 77th Precinct in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, around the same time. An NYPD spokesman said it was unclear whether the incident was connected to the protests.

The car was not an official police vehicle, the spokesman said, adding that no arrests have been made in connection with the incident, and an investigation into it is ongoing.

Meanwhile, in the Tompkinsville section of Staten Island, a crowd gathered shortly after the grand jury decision was announced at the spot where Garner was killed.

Kevin Buford, a Staten Island resident, said he knew Garner before he died. Buford called him a nice, decent man who "would help you out if he could."

"[But] even if he was an axe murderer, what happened to him shouldn't have happened by so-called New York's finest," Buford said.

Buford wore a shirt that read “I am Sean Bell," in reference to a black man who was killed by NYPD officers on the morning of his wedding in 2006.

“I am Amadou Diallo. I am Ramarley Graham. I am Michael Brown,” Buford said, naming other black men who have been killed by police. “I am every black man that has been lynched."

Christopher Mathias, Andy Campbell, Tyler Kingkade and Sam Wilkes contributed reporting.

Video #1 By Irina Dvalidze
Video #2 By Sam Wilkes

Check out more photos from the protests:

  • Julio Cortez/AP
  • A woman, right, yells at a New York City Police officer during a protest after it was announced that the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner is not being indicted, Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014, in New York. A grand jury cleared the white New York City police officer Wednesday in the videotaped chokehold death of Garner, an unarmed black man, who had been stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes, a lawyer for the victim's family said. A video shot by an onlooker and widely viewed on the Internet showed the 43-year-old Garner telling a group of police officers to leave him alone as they tried to arrest him. The city medical examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide and found that a chokehold contributed to it. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
  • Kena Betancur/Getty Images
  • A man yells at a police officer as he takes part during a protest on 6th Avenue in Manhattan after a grand jury decided not to indict New York Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo in Eric Garner's death on December 3, 2014 in New York City. Eric Garner was killed by a police officer Daniel Pantaleo on July 17, 2014 after Pantaleo suspected him of selling untaxed cigarettes and putting him in a choke hold. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
  • Julio Cortez/AP
  • People march in protest on the West Side Highway after it was announced that the New York City police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner was not indicted, Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014, in New York. A grand jury cleared the New York City police officer Wednesday in the videotaped chokehold death of Garner, an unarmed black man, who had been stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes, a lawyer for the victim's family said. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
  • Julio Cortez/AP
  • A man, left, holds his hands up as New York City Police officers secure a street near Rockefeller Center during a protest after it was announced that the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner is not being indicted, Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014, in New York. A grand jury cleared the white New York City police officer Wednesday in the videotaped chokehold death of Garner, an unarmed black man, who had been stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes, a lawyer for the victim's family said. A video shot by an onlooker and widely viewed on the Internet showed the 43-year-old Garner telling a group of police officers to leave him alone as they tried to arrest him. The city medical examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide and found that a chokehold contributed to it. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
  • Bradd Jaffy/Twitter
  • Protesters gather near Rockefeller Center in New York.
  • ashdollarsign/Twitter
  • Protesters lie in the street in New York.
  • Tyler Kingkade/Huffington Post
  • Protesters gather near Rockefeller Center in New York.
  • Julio Cortez/AP
  • A woman holds her hands up as she marches near a police vehicle during a protest after it was announced that the New York City police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner is not being indicted, Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014, in New York. A grand jury cleared the white New York City police officer Wednesday in the videotaped chokehold death of Garner, an unarmed black man, who had been stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes, a lawyer for the victim's family said. A video shot by an onlooker and widely viewed on the Internet showed the 43-year-old Garner telling a group of police officers to leave him alone as they tried to arrest him. The city medical examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide and found that a chokehold contributed to it. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
  • Yana Paskova/Getty Images
  • LIndsey Ellefson, 22, lies down during a protest in Grand Central Terminal December 3, 2014 in New York. Protests began after a Grand Jury decided to not indict officer Daniel Pantaleo. Eric Garner died after being put in a chokehold by Pantaleo on July 17, 2014. Pantaleo had suspected Garner of selling untaxed cigarettes. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
  • Yana Paskova/Getty Images
  • Demonstrators lie down during a protest in Grand Central Terminal December 3, 2014 in New York. Protests began after a Grand Jury decided to not indict officer Daniel Pantaleo. Eric Garner died after being put in a chokehold by Pantaleo on July 17, 2014. Pantaleo had suspected Garner of selling untaxed cigarettes. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
  • Protesters gather in Grand Central in New York.

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