Thousands March to Protest Eric Garner’s Killing

August 25, 2014

Thousands of protestors marched peacefully in Staten Island August 23 to demand justice in the July 17 chokehold death of unarmed African American Eric Garner.

On August 1, the New York City medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide cause by a chokehold – which has been banned in New York City for more than two decades – and compression of Garner’s chest. NYC Police Commissioner William Bratton had verified the police used a chokehold.

In a video taken by bystander Ramsey Orta during the arrest, Police officer Eric Pantaleo is shown administering the chokehold. When Garner is brought down with the help of other officers, Pantaleo grinds Garner’s face into the sidewalk as Garner repeatedly yells “I can’t breathe.”

The 43-year-old Garner is survived by his widow and six children.

“I need to be able to wake up and know that my three children are safe,” said Vanessa Emmanuelli, a Rite Aid salesperson, who came to the march and rally with a contingent of New Jersey 1199ers.

“If Mr. Garner was selling cigarettes on the street, maybe that called for his getting a ticket from the police, not death,” Emmanuelli said as she waited for the march to step off from Victory Boulevard near Bay Street, near the site of the killing.

Emmanuelli was joined by hundreds of 1199ers and their family members ranging from age 5 to 85. Shelton Thompson, a habilitation counselor at New York City’s United Cerebral Palsy and an 1199SEIU Delegate, stood behind an 1199SEIU banner with her son, Aidan, 10. “We have to finally end what now seems like a never-ending cycle of violence against our youth,” Thompson said.

The march, rally and aftermath took place without a single incident, though detractors attempted to frighten participants and depress the turnout with rumors of violence and disruptions. It appears that the majority of storeowners along the rally’s route heeded the suggestion of the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce to shutter their businesses.

Marchers were peaceful and orderly, but also spirited and angry. Many chanted, “Don’t Shoot and held their hands in the air, a gesture of solidarity with the people of Ferguson, Missouri, who are protesting the August 9 killing of Michael Brown and the brutal police repression in its aftermath. Some held signs that read “We Will Not Go Back,” the theme of the Staten Island rally. Other signs read “Am I Next?” and “Stop Police Brutality.

“Justice for Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Ramarley Graham and many others,” read the placards carried by many 1199ers. Graham, who was killed in his Bronx home in 2012 by police, is the son of 1199er Constance Malcolm, a rally speaker who called for a U.S. Justice Department investigation.