New York City, Dec. 8 — For millions, it was both horrifying and shocking news. But for other millions it was indeed horrifying but not unexpected. It was the announcement that white killer cop, Daniel Pantaleo, would not be indicted by a 24-member Staten Island, N.Y., grand jury for the July 17 videotaped, illegal-chokehold murder of 43-year-old Eric Garner, an African American. This decision, made public on Dec. 3, has ignited an unprecedented massive anti-police uprising across the U.S.
Garner could be heard on the video, saying, “I can’t breathe” at least 11 times as he was being grabbed around the neck by Pantaleo, with at least five other police officers pulling his hands and arms behind his back and pressing his head to the pavement, ultimately causing him to go into cardiac arrest.
This ruling came just 10 days after the Nov. 24 announcement that another white killer cop, Darren Wilson, would not be indicted for the shooting death of 18-year-old unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 9. Black youth, many of them survivors of racial profiling by the police, began a heroic rebellion for more than a week in Ferguson against this lynching. As the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine so eloquently stated in August, Ferguson had become “an emerging intifada.”
The Ferguson rebellion helped to expose to the U.S. and the world the role of the police in this country as occupiers of communities of color armed to the teeth with highly militarized tanks, tear gas and rubber bullets. Once pro-cop District Attorney Robert McCulloch announced the non-indictment, outraged people took to the streets not only in Ferguson and the St. Louis area but throughout the country, chanting Brown’s last words: “Hands up, don’t shoot!” Since the Staten Island ruling, that chant has been expanded to Garner’s last words: “I can’t breathe!”
The non-indictment of Pantaleo and the fact that the murder of Garner was viewed by millions of people has only added more fuel to the firestorm of protests in large and small cities and towns. Not only are people taking to the streets in the hundreds and even thousands on a daily basis but they are becoming more and more organized, mainly through social media, with the theme of making the “comfortable uncomfortable.”
This new organization has taken on a “no business as usual” orientation as manifested in walkouts from high schools, college campuses, even elementary schools and off the job to shutdowns and blockades of bridges, tunnels, highways, interstates, malls and stores. There was even a disruption of the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on Nov. 27 that became a major news story.
On Dec. 4, over 120 actions took place in 40 states in response to the Garner ruling.
The cases of Brown and Garner have helped to elevate the reality of the heinous war against Black and Brown people, especially youth. In the U.S., at least one Black youth is killed every 28 hours by the police. Just in the past several months and weeks, this war has claimed the lives of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland; Akai Gurley in East New York, Brooklyn; Ezell Ford in Los Angeles; John Crawford III in Beavercreek, Ohio; and Rumain Brisbon in Phoenix — and many more. Protests linking these local police murders with Brown and Garner continue to take place in these cities.
Deep impact of Brown and Garner
The struggle to win justice for Michael Brown and Eric Garner has evolved into a powerful catalyst to fight back against every aspect of police terror from stop-and-frisk to mass incarceration, beatings and outright murders. It is very rare that police officers who carry out such atrocities are arrested or indicted as the Brown, Garner and Crawford cases have shown. In 179 cases of grand jury hearings involving New York police over the past 15 years, only three have led to indictments, and no cops did jail time. (NY Daily News, Dec. 8)
This anti-police uprising has permeated every sector of U.S. society. There are too many examples to mention here, but probably the most visible sector has been youth. Not only do young people constitute the largest numbers of protesters everywhere, but youth of color are in the leadership of many of these protests locally and nationally. There are white youth, many from the Occupy movement, who are standing in anti-racist solidarity with oppressed youth. And then there are just ordinary people, who have never attended a protest in their lives, who have gone from being bystanders to active participants, especially after seeing the Garner video.
In New York City since Dec. 3, there have been die-ins and disruptions in the thousands almost everyday in the busy hubs of transportation, most notably Grand Central Station. There have been shutdowns of major portions of the West Side Highway and the Holland and Lincoln tunnels. A sizable number of those stuck in traffic have expressed solidarity with the demonstrators by honking their horns or giving high-fives to those carrying signs and banner.
Today, protesters shut down the largest bridge in New York City, the Verrazano Bridge, in one direction for seven minutes with huge signs reading, “Eric Garner #ThisStopsToday Mike Brown.” The seven minutes represent the amount of time that the police and Emergency Medical Service workers did not attempt to resuscitate Garner.
Yesterday, in Long Island, N.Y., hundreds shut down the Sunrise Highway.
On Dec. 7, hundreds of protesters shut down the toy gun department at Toys-r-Us in Times Square to protest the killings of Rice and Crawford, who were shot by cops while holding toy guns. Apple and Macy’s stores in midtown have also been shut down.
The #ThisStopsToday coalition has put out a public call for 11 days of action to take place Dec. 10-20 to “escalate the urgency of the crisis of police violence and lack of accountability, and to help move this moment into a movement-building period to secure concrete wins for our communities.” A citywide march called by #MillionsMarchNYC will take place Dec. 13 at 2 p.m., starting at Washington Square Park. A national march demanding that the federal government indict killer cops is scheduled on the same day in Washington, D.C., led by families directly stricken by police violence.
High-profiled athletes and performers take a stand
On Nov. 30, five members of the National Football League’s St. Louis Rams’ receiving corps came out onto the field with their hands up to show solidarity with the Ferguson community. On Dec. 7, more Rams had “I can’t breathe” emblazoned on their shirts, wrist bands or cleats, including offensive guard Davin Joseph, tight end Jared Cook and receiver Kenny Britt. Reggie Bush, Detroit Lions’ running back, wore an “I can’t breathe” warm-up shirt on Dec. 7, along with Cleveland Browns’ cornerback Johnson Bademosi.
Former National Basketball Association Most Valuable Player and Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose wore an “I can’t breathe” warm-up shirt on Dec. 6.
Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls’ coach, defended Rose, saying his actions have to do with “justice” and “equality.”
And four-time MVP and two-time NBA champion Lebron James wore the same T-shirt before a Brooklyn Nets/Cleveland Cavaliers game Dec. 8. This attracted national attention while a protest, including a die-in of many hundreds, took place outside the Barclays Center, home to the Nets. One of James’ teammates, Kylie Irving, wore the same shirt, as did several Nets members like Deron Williams and Kevin Garnett.
Grammy award-winning singer John Legend and his spouse, model Chrissie Teigen, paid for a fleet of food trucks to provide free food for hungry protesters at Lincoln Square in New York.
A July 29 youTube featuring dozens of Broadway performers protesting the death of Garner in front of a New York Police Department substation in Times Square has been reshown on Twitter.
International protests in solidarity with Mike Brown and Eric Garner have been organized, including in the Occupied Territories in Palestine, New Delhi, Paris, Melbourne, Tokyo, London, Hannover, Germany, various cities in Canada and even in Anchorage, Alaska, in the U.S.