‘I Can’t Breathe!’ protest rages on

Protesters in New York call for police reform.
Photo by Onika Straker

The last words stifling through the lungs of Eric Garner, has become the mantra of a nationwide call for policing reform in communities of color.

New York City’s streets, stores, and transportation systems have been affected by people in an ongoing protest of the “no-indictment verdict” announced by a Staten Island grand jury on Wednesday, Dec. 3.

Lack of confidence in the policing habits of the NYPD have prompted New Yorkers of all walks of life marched in solidarity with their brothers and neighbors persecuted by what many of the protesters have called racist policies adopted and enforced by the New York City police department.

Elsa Waithe, one of the people voicing the loosely organized protests, expressed that “[our] purpose is to disrupt the system so [the NYPD] will know we will not allow business as usual.”

According to an article published in the New York Daily News on Monday, in 179 fatalities involving uniformed officers in a 15-year span, only three led to indictments yielding one conviction. The Daily News highlights a systematic lax in the handling of police shootings resulting the death of unarmed men of color. The article found that approximately 27 percent of people killed by police officers were unarmed. In cases where the race was identified, 86 percent of the killings were individuals of African or Hispanic descent.

The data was recorded after the mistaken identity killing of an unarmed black male Amadou Diallo in 1999.

Diallo was Guinean immigrant living in the Bronx. Four plainclothes officers approached the 22-year old, returning to his apartment. They ordered him to show identification. When Diallo reached for his wallet he was blitz with bullets. 41 shots were fired, 19 struck him. The four officers mistook is action of motioning for his wallet as him reaching for a gun.

The officers were acquitted of all murder charges.

Bryan Conroy was the only officer convicted in the 176 reported killings by police officers.

Protestor and police interact during a recent protest march in New York.
Photo by Onika Straker

In 2005, Conroy was convicted of criminally negligent homicide in the shooting death of Ousmane Zongo, 43. The husband and, “father of two was never implicated in the counterfeit goods investigation.” Conroy disguised as a postal worker, drew his weapon and shot Zongo four times. Conroy did not receive jail time for the murder of an unarmed black male. He was only sentenced to five years of probation and 500 hours of community service.

Staten Island not indicting Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of Eric Garner aligns with the paradigm of impunity awarded to law enforcement in the killing of unarmed men of color.

“[We] are bringing awareness to a [situation] a lot of people are not [conscious] is going on”, asserted Waithe while dissidents echoed Garner’s final words. The mob navigated through cars stalled by their demonstration, reciting, “HANDS UP! DON’T SHOOT!” They hoisted signs displaying the names of their fellow countrymen fallen victim to police brutality. They paraded banners reading, “Black Life Matters,” inspiring drivers inconvenienced by the movement to show support by honking their horns.

Waithe describes the protest as an annoyance but justified its necessity by expressing her own grievances. “…I am annoyed that my rights are taken away. If it takes a few extra minutes to get to work or home, so be it.” She urges us to remember that, “Eric Garner is never coming home.”

Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old male shot by a Cleveland police officer, seconds after police arrived in response to a 911 call describing a, “black male holing a gun, [which is] probably a toy.”

While staging a die-in in the toy gun aisle of the Toys R Us on 42nd Street, Waithe blasted us with the stark reality of the advancing holiday season; Tamir Rice would never have another Christmas.

Akai Gurley was shot in the darkened stairwell of the Pink Houses complex in East New York section of Brooklyn, on Nov. 20, 2014. Rookie officer Liang reportedly accidently discharged his weapon while attempting to open a door to the staircase with both hands occupied, the right with a flashlight and the left with an NYPD issued 9-mm Glock, the bullet fatally struck Gurley in his chest.

Commissioner Bill Bratton, pioneer of the “Broken Windows” model of policing, immediately described the incident as a tragedy and accident. Bratton eliminated any role the victim played in his own death by stating Gurley was, “totally innocent.”

The 28-year-old father of two-year old Akaila Gurley would not be coming home.

Protestor holds a placard with the last words of Eric Garner.
Photo by Onika Straker

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