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No indictment for NYPD officer in death of Eric Garner

Charges will not be filed against Officer Daniel Pantaleo who put Staten Island man in apparent chokehold

No indictment will be brought against a New York City police officer in the police chokehold death of Eric Garner on Staten Island in July. The incident, captured on a video that went viral, fueled debates about how U.S. police use force, particularly against minorities.

The decision comes on the heels of last week’s grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri in which a white police officer was not indicted in the killing of an unarmed black teenager, leading to protests — some violent — in Missouri, Oakland, New York City and elsewhere across the country.

After the decision was announced, the Garner family lawyer was quoted by BBC News as saying he was "astonished based on the evidence of the video tape and the medical examiner, that this grand jury at this time wouldn't indict for anything.” Meanwhile, Garner's daughter Erica told BBC News that the grand jury was “not even human, [and] there is no humanity."

"On that video you can see the most cruel horrible thing that someone could do to someone," she said. "It's just not right."

Later on Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced a federal investigation into Garner’s death.

Holder said in a press conference that the Justice Department investigation would be “independent, thorough, fair and expeditious,” and that it would also include a complete review of the materials gathered during the local investigation.

“I know that a substantial number of people in New York and across the country will be disappointed and frustrated with the outcome “ of the grand jury investigation, he said. “This is the right of all Americans. But the most successful moments are the ones that adhere to the principles of non-violence.”

Protests broke out following the grand jury decision in Staten Island and Manhattan. Eric Garner's father Ben sought to keep demonstrations non-violent, telling one angry bystander: "Let's keep the peace, we all are hurting."

Garner’s mother Gwen Carr and wife Esaw Garner will address the media alongside Rev. Al Sharpton Wednesday evening in Harlem. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was also set to meet with Staten Island officials, clergy and activists on Wednesday and will not attend the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

"Today’s outcome is one that many in our city did not want. Yet New York City owns a proud and powerful tradition of expressing ourselves through nonviolent protest. We trust that those unhappy with today’s grand jury decision will make their views known in the same peaceful, constructive way," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.

At a subsequent press conference, he added: “There’s a lot of pain and frustration in this room this evening. At the same time, there’s a lot of purposefulness.”

He urged New Yorkers to heed the call of Garner’s family to not engage in violence, but rather to make their voices heard peacefully. “You will not sully his name with violence or vandalism,” de Blasio said. “The only thing that has ever worked is peaceful protest, nonviolent activism.

De Blasio addressed the problem of police violence against blacks, saying it was “hard for any one of us who was a human being, and particularly anyone who was a parent,” not to be deeply pained by the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio or that of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

“All of these pains add up and demand action,” he said.

President Barack Obama also spoke out about the grand jury decision on Wednesday, acknowledging what happened to Garner speaks to the larger problems across the U.S.

"We recognize this is an American problem. Not just a black problem or brown problem," Obama said. "When anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law, that’s a problem."

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said in a statement the decision not to indict “was a terribly disappointing outcome and is not reflective of the events that led to Eric Garner’s death. What makes this even more infuriating is the frequent lack of accountability, which is why I urge the U.S. Department of Justice to launch its own investigation" 

Earlier Wednesday, NYPD Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said he doesn't anticipate any violence in New York City once the grand jury made its decision, but he told "CBS This Morning" on Wednesday that the city has been preparing for the possible protests for months, including through community meetings.

Bratton says he's more concerned with outside agitators "seeking to take advantage of what's going on here" and looking at what tactics they might employ. 

Garner was stopped on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes back in July. The black, 43-year-old father of six is shown on video telling officers to leave him alone before Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who is white, put him in a chokehold — a restraint tactic banned by the NYPD in 1993. Garner is also heard on the video saying "I can't breathe" multiple times. 

Garner suffered a heart attack after officers compressed his neck and chest, 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 grand jury was tasked with considering whether charges of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide or reckless endangerment, should be brought against the officer. In order for there to be an indictment, 12 of the 23 members of the grand jury would have needed to vote in favor of a particular charge. 

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."

On Tuesday, Garner's son, 18-year-old Eric Snipes, told the New York Daily News that he hoped jurors would indict Pantaleo and look at the video of the incident and "see what the officer did, and believe that what he did was a crime." 

Snipes also said that he didn't believe the events that took place in Ferguson, which included police cars being set on fire and stores looted, would occur on Staten Island. 

"I think everybody knows my father wasn’t a violent man, and they’re going to respect his memory by remaining peaceful," Snipes told the Daily News. "It’s not going to be like it was there."

In anticipation of the decision in Eric Garner's case, Commissioner Bratton sent detectives from the NYPD to understand who the "agitators" there were and to study "new tactics that might be employed by professional agitators." 

Back in August, Rev. Al Sharpton held a rally on Staten Island in which thousands participated. Similar protests and demonstrations are expected to follow the announcement of the grand jury decision. 

Al Jazeera and wire services

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