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Staten Island Protesters Vow to Remain Peaceful After Grand Jury Decision: 'Staten Island is Not Ferguson'

( [email protected] ) Dec 04, 2014 03:27 PM EST

Eric Garner Chokehold Case Protests
The protesters stop traffic along the West Side Highway in Manhattan. (Adrees Latif / Reuters)

Barely a week after riots erupted nationwide following a grand jury decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, a new set of protests are underway after a similar incident happened in New York.

Forty-three year old Eric Garner was arrested on a Staten Island street for suspicion of selling loose cigarettes on July 17, 2014. As shown in three amateur videos taken during the incident, Garner pleaded with cops to leave him alone before being subdued and taken to the ground by several officers. When officer Daniel Pantaleo applied a chokehold on Garner -- a move that has been banned by the New York police department since 1993 -- the suspect complained several times that he couldn't breathe as he lie face-down on the sidewalk. He died an hour later after being rushed to an area hospital.

City medical examiners concluded that Garner was killed by "the compression of his chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police," but a grand jury ruled not to indict the officer for his actions after less than a day of deliberations, stating that there was not enough evidence for charges to be brought against Officer Pantaleo.

When that decision was announced on Wednesday, protesters immediately took to the streets of New York City, but the scene was much different from that of Ferguson's protests.

"I think everybody knows my father wasn't a violent man and they're going to respect his memory by remaining peaceful," Garner's son, 18-year-old Eric Snipes told the NY Daily News. "It's not going to be like it was there."

The Ferguson riots of last week resulted in extensive destruction of property as protesters vented their anger and frustration on nearby businesses. Propery damage estimates hover around $5 million in Ferguson so far, according to local insurance adjusters, but New York Police Commissioner William Bratton said that his department is planning to prevent any such damage and allow protesters the room they need to vent.

"If they engage in criminal activity such as vandalism, actual crime, they'll be arrested, quite simply," he said. "But we have the ability to have a level of tolerance. This is a department that has a lot of experience dealing with various forms of demonstrations."

"Staten Island is not Ferguson," Public Advocate Letitia James said. "Although I respect the Constitution and believe that protest is a powerful instrument, neither I, nor the NYPD, will tolerate any destruction of property and urge that everyone remain calm."

The U.S. Justice Department is now launching a civil rights investigation as a follow-up to this decision and aims to review how to heal a "breakdown in trust" between police and communities.

Officer Pantaleo is currently on suspension from the department and may still face departmental charges that could get him kicked from the force. Four EMTs and paramedics who arrived at the scene were suspended without pay, and Officer Damico, the officer who made initial contact with Garner, was placed on desk duty.

President Obama responded to the grand jury decision by agreeing that it's his job to solve this problem. "When anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law, that is a problem, and it's my job as president to help solve it.

"This is an issue that we've been dealing with for too long, and it's time for us to make more progress than we've made," the president continued. "And I'm not interested in talk, I'm interested in action." 

Tags : Chokehold Case, Eric Garner, Staten Island, Ferguson