Ten days after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict a white police officer in the chokehold death of an unarmed black man, thousands took to the streets across the country demanding justice for Eric Garner as well as others killed by police.
In Washington D.C., demonstrators marched down historic Pennsylvania Avenue, holding signs that read “Black Lives Matter” while pleading for change in America’s justice system.
Tens of thousands were also expected to descend on New York City for what could turn out to be the largest demonstration in Manhattan since the Staten Island grand jury voted against indicting the NYPD officer involved in Garner’s death.
— SpeedReads (@SpeedReads) December 13, 2014
— NYCLU (@NYCLU) December 13, 2014
— Bassam Khawaja (@bassam_khawaja) December 13, 2014
Long Islanders were also eager to let their voices be heard.
About a dozen people marched peacefully in Islip from Brookwood Hall Park to Town Hall as Suffolk County police cruisers followed along. A separate rally was also held in Hempstead.
“We need more peace!” chanted the Islip demonstrators, led by Rev. Bryan Greaves of Holy Church of Christ in Central Islip. “Increase the peace.”
Standing on the steps of town hall, Greaves said, “today we are here for tomorrow.”
The rally, he said, was meant to instill respect and peace in the community.
Speaking of future generations, Greaves said, “We have a responsibility to do something to ensure their safety.”
Bishop Donald Hudson of Common Ground Church in Central Islip called for federal investigators to bring charges against the officers involved in the deaths of Garner and 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., so “we can see justice and peace.”
Hudson echoed comments made by Greaves, saying, “let’s make sure that we join hand-in-hand with peace.
“It’s about right versus wrong,” he said, not race.
Marching in Islip was Rochelle Allen, who said she came out to “show the community, law enforcement, everyone in our community that we stand together.”
She also wanted to show her support for families of those who died in recent confrontations with police.
“It’s important that we raise awareness and show people that we can spread peace,” Allen said, “and we can spread love and things don’t have to be the way they are.”
Her mother Shirley Bennett-Allen called for change.
“It’s time for us to stop all this foolishness, on both sides; as far as the cops are concerned, as far as the young men are concerned,” she said.
“And when you see people acting out, we have to understand that these children know that we’re not going to try to glorify them…like there’s no fault in anything they’ve done,” she added. “But nobody deserved to die, especially if the child didn’t have a gun.”
The non-indictment in the Garner case came just days after a grand jury in Ferguson decided against charging police officer Darren Wilson in Brown’s death. The decision in the Garner case was even more surprising, demonstrators have said, because the entire confrontation was caught on cell phone video.
While Missouri laws allowed the prosecutor in that case to release details of the grand jury proceedings, which are secret, New York State law largely prevents the release of grand jury information.
The New York Civil Liberties union on Friday sent a formal request to the judge who oversaw the Garner grand jury case asking for the public release of transcripts from the proceedings. The group also asked that any information that could lead to the identification of jurors or witnesses be redacted.
“The failure to indict the officer responsible for the death of Eric Garner after the incident was clearly recorded on video has severely damaged the ability of much of the public to trust the criminal justice system and has left many wondering if black lives even matter,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a statement.
NYPD supporters plan to hold their own rally Friday at 5 p.m., according to a Facebook page called “Thank you NYPD.”