By Juan Soto
As the state attorney general asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo to grant him power to investigate police killings of unarmed civilians, hundreds of Queens residents took their frustration to the streets over the non-indictment decision in the case of Eric Garner.
About a hundred residents — mostly immigrants — marched in Jackson Heights after participating in a SpeakOut held at the Jewish Center located at 77th Street organized by the South Asian Organizing Center-Drum.
“I am committed to the struggle to end police brutality,” City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) told the SpeakOut last Friday.
Inside the Jewish center, there were signs hanging in the walls that read, “The people say guilty. Justice for Eric Garner” and “A system cannot fail those it was meant to protect.”
Following the indoor meeting, the group took to the rainy streets and marched to the 115th Police Precinct at 92nd Street and Northern Boulevard. In front of the station house, they held a minute of silence in honor of Garner.
Then, they walked to 82nd Street and Roosevelt Avenue, where they stayed at the intersection for seven minutes, marking the number of minutes the Staten Island man laid on the street without medical attention.
On Sunday, about 100 protesters took part in a march along the busy Jamaica Avenue strip demanding justice for the Garner family.
Garner, 43, died after he was put in a police chokehold during his arrest in Staten Island for selling loose cigarettes. Garner’s death was replayed around the nation on a video as he slumped to the sidewalk saying “I can’t breathe.”
Citywide protests erupted when a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the officer involved in Garner’s death. Pantaleo testified during the grand jury investigation.
U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) Monday hosted a forum for the community to allow constituents to express their concerns about unarmed people being killed by police offices.
“We need a comprehensive approach to cases like this,” the congressman said.
Meeks said the video footage of Garner’s case, along with the medical examiner’s ruling his death was a homicide, “is enough for an indictment.”
At the NAACP branch in Jamaica, residents are organizing to travel Saturday to Washington to participate in the march led by Rev. Al Sharpton.
“We are very frustrated,” said Leroy Gadsden, president of the Jamaica NAACP. “This is beyond anger.”
Gadsden called on the federal authorities to “step in and take control of local law enforcement.” He pointed out that although “people still have trust in our system, a lot of people are losing faith and trust in the judicial system.”
This week several Queens Council members, including I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans), Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton), Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica), Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) staged a “die-in” at City Hall.
In the aftermath of the Garner case, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton announced a program to retrain about 22,000 cops. The three-day course will cost $35 million, said de Blasio.
The first day officers will be taught police foundations, the seconds day smart policing techniques, and the third and last day tactical skills.
The mayor said, for example, if a confrontation between a cop and a civilian is escalating, “How do we stop it? How do we de-escalate it?”
But Gadsden believes the retraining is unnecessary.
“This is a waste of taxpayers money,” he said. “Why do you retrain 100 percent of the police officers when only about 8 or 10 percent have a problem?”
The Jamaica NAACP president said the measures announced “are not going to solve anything. We need to hold the police officers accountable.”
In the meantime, Eric Schneiderman, the state attorney general, is requesting permission from Cuomo to investigate cases involving unarmed civilians. “The horrible events surrounding the death of Eric Garner have revealed a deep crisis of confidence in some of the fundamental elements of our criminal justice system,” Schneiderman said.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York City Liberties Union, said, “the failure to secure an indictment in the killing of Eric Garner leaves New Yorkers with an inescapable question: How can we hold police officers accountable for the death of unarmed civilians?”
She pointed out the designation of a special prosecutor “will be a first step to help restore public faith in our justice system.”
Reach reporter Juan Soto by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.