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Angry New Yorkers marched on the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree Wednesday night to protest a Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to indict a white New York City police officer in the chokehold death of unarmed black man Eric Garner.
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Garner, suspected of selling untaxed cigarettes on Bay Street in Tompkinsville, was put in a chokehold by Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo on July 17. A bystander filmed the incident, and the 43-year old's death was ruled a homicide.
The grand jury's decision came just over a week after a grand jury in Ferguson, Mo., decided not to indict a white police officer in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. Riots broke out in Ferguson, and protesters marched in sympathy across the U.S.
“People live here and they're not dumb," said Rodney Lee, 28, who works at a beauty supply store near where Garner died. "They won't burn down the shops.”
“They should set up some local policemen who grew up in the area and know how to treat the people over here … I think the body camera would help," said Joey Evans, 36, who claimed he was also “beaten up” by Pantaleo.
In Union Square, several hundred protestors faced off against a wall of cops, chanting "Black lives matter," "No justice, no peace" and "Hey cops, stop killing!" A gaggle of cops could be heard laughing at the protest.
Richmond County District Attorney Daniel M. Donovan Jr. announced the lack of indictment in a prepared statement late Wednesday afternoon.
The 23 grand jury members have been empaneled since Sept. 29, and Donovan said he has filed a court order to release the investigative material they reviewed.
Congressman Hakeem Jeffries was among elected officials who denounced the grand jury’s findings on Wednesday afternoon and called on the Department of Justice to investigate Garner’s death.
“This grand jury couldn’t even see fit to charge this officer with a misdemeanor,” said. “I’m a father of two young African American boys and I don’t know what to say to them.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio said there will be a federal investigation into Garner's death, and promised a further NYPD inquiry.
"Staten Island is not Ferguson, it will not be tonight, or tomorrow," Public Advocate Letitia James said. "
Pantaleo said in a statement released by the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association that he became an officer to "help people," and said he felt badly about Garner's death.