New York officials are preparing for likely protests as a grand jury decides whether to charge police in the death of a black man subjected to a banned choke hold, although they are aiming to avoid the kind of violence that engulfed Ferguson, Missouri last month after the grand jury decision in the Michael Brown case.
Protest groups have planned marches if the New York grand jury does not charge any of the officers involved in the July 17 incident, which led to the death of Eric Garner, a black 43-year-old father of six, by a white officer. It is not clear when the grand jury will rule.
Officials on Staten Island, the site of Garner's death, have been told to expect a heightened police presence in the wake of violent protests last week after a grand jury in Missouri did not charge a Darren Wilson, an white police officer in the fatal shooting of Brown, an unarmed black teen, in August.
'We're just praying and hoping that things don't get out of hand,' said Bobby Digi, a Staten Island activist and businessman. 'We've been doing a lot of behind-the-scenes work to just try to get temperaments at bay.'
After the Missouri grand jury decision in Brown's death, rioters clashed with police, burning down buildings and looting stores. The decision prompted dozens of demonstrations across the United States, including in New York where major roadways were closed.
Hazel Dukes, president of the New York state chapter of the NAACP civil rights group, said she was 'very worried' about the possible response if no charges are brought by the Staten Island grand jury, which has been meeting in secret since August.
'We don't want to see rioting,' Dukes said. 'We don't want to see the destruction of our community.'
New York Police Commissioner William Bratton met on Monday with Staten Island clergy and officials, who said afterward they were told to expect added police. Like the officer who shot Brown, the officer who put the choke hold on Garner, Daniel Pantaleo, is white.
New York police worked with police in Ferguson to share strategies and identify so-called professional agitators at protests, Bratton has told local media.
'When the decision comes, I expect, regardless of what the decision is, that there'll be some demonstrations,' Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan told reporters on Tuesday, noting that prior demonstrations had been peaceful.
Garner suffered a heart attack after officers compressed his neck and chest as they restrained him for selling loose cigarettes, the medical examiner ruled, calling his death a homicide.
Garner's health problems, including asthma and obesity, were contributing factors, the medical examiner said.
The incident, captured on a video that went viral, fueled debates about how U.S. police use force, particularly against minorities.