US protests spread

Submitted by Matthew on 10 December, 2014 - 12:20 Author: Gemma Short

The news that police officers involved in the death of black man Eric Garner will not face criminal charges has sparked protests across the US.

In a situation similar to that of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, a New York Grand Jury decided not to indict the officers who choked Eric to death using a stranglehold.

Eric was stopped by police on suspicion selling illegal cigarettes in July. After a struggle Eric was tackled to the ground and held in a chokehold, banned by the New York Police Department (NYPD), even as he gasped “I can't breathe”. He was later pronounced dead in hospital.

An Autopsy found Eric died as a direct result of the chokehold, compressions to his chest and prone positioning during his restraint by the police. A New York city medical examiner ruled that Eric's death was homicide and called for criminal charges to be brought.

NYPD outlawed the use of chokeholds two decades ago yet between January 2009 and June 2014 the independent agency that investigates police misconduct in the city received 1,128 civilian complaints over chokeholds. The NYPD has been criticised for its “broken windows” policing philosophy which emphasises cracking down on petty crime — such as selling untaxed cigarettes — as a means of stopping more serious crime. Reportedly the policy also includes deliberate racial profiling, daily harassment of black people on the streets by police.

Since the Grant Jury decision on 3 December protestors have gathered in Times Square and Union Square nightly, thousands have blocked Brooklyn Bridge and more still blocked the Staten Island ferry terminal and Lincoln Tunnel. Protesters also staged “die-ins” at road intersections as well as in high profile shopping locations such as Macy's. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten was arrested in protests on 4 December, along with 200 others. On Monday 8 December protesters staged a “die-in” at City Hall.

Protests have also taken place in Brooklyn over the shooting by police of another unarmed black man, Akai Gurley. Police are claiming that the officer's gun fired “accidentally”, though it is as yet unclear why he was patrolling with his gun drawn and ready to fire.

Protests have continued in Cleveland, Ohio, after the death of 12 year old Tamir Rice shot dead by police on 22 November. Video footage released by the state police department showed police officers shot Tamir less than two seconds after arriving on the scene. It has also emerged that the officer who shot Tamir has been judged unfit for duty, and to handle live firearms two years ago. Another enquiry into Cleveland police found that officers “violate basic constitutional precepts in their use of deadly and less lethal force at a rate that is highly significant”. A 13-year-old boy was repeatedly punched in the face. A semi-naked hostage was shot at as he fled his captors.

In Phoenix, Arizona, another unarmed black man Rumain Brisbon was shot dead by police on 2 December. Rumain was delivering McDonalds food to his family from his car when police approached him on a suspected drugs crime. Police say they thought Rumain was reading in his pocket for a gun – it turned out to be a pill box.

“It gives you the impression that it’s open season on killing black men,” Ann Hart, chairwoman of Phoenix’s African-American police advisory council, said in a television interview.

Protests in Berkeley, California have been held to mark the 50th anniversary since the college administration shut down the Free Speech Movement, which fought for freedom of political expression on campus particularly in solidarity with civil rights protests, with the arresting 800 students who were staging a sit in. Police have used tear gas and rubber bullets against today's students at Berkeley, and arrested over 150.

On 4 December fast food workers across the US struck in the continuing campaign for $15 an hour and union recognition. Strikers in St Louis staged “die-ins” at fast food and convenience stores across the city, chanting “hands up, don't shoot!”

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