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Protests in US over chokehold death case

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Protests have been held in US cities after a grand jury decided not to indict a white police officer in the videotaped chokehold death of an unarmed black man who had been stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.

In New York City, angry crowds gathered on Wednesday in Manhattan and Staten Island, near the site where Eric Garner was killed on July 17.

Police said early on Thursday that more than 60 people have been arrested, most for disorderly conduct.

Garner’s father Ben sought to keep demonstrations non-violent, telling one angry bystander: “Let’s keep the peace, we all are hurting.”

The decision not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo threatened to add to the tensions that have simmered in the city since Garner’s death – a case that sparked outrage and drew comparisons to the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Missouri.

As with Brown’s death in the St Louis suburb of Ferguson, the Garner case sparked accusations of racist policing and calls for federal prosecutors to intervene.

‘Blatant racism’

Immediately after the announcement of the grand jury’s decision, protesters gathered in Staten Island, expressing dismay over what they alleged was a lack of justice.

“I think the justice system keeps protecting white people,” Robert Copeland, 32, told Al Jazeera. “This is the most blatant racism I’ve ever seen since I’ve been alive.

President Barack Obama said the grand jury decision underscores the need to strengthen the trust and accountability between communities and law enforcement.

The US Justice Department will conduct a federal investigation into Garner’s death, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Wednesday evening.

The New York Police Department also is doing an internal probe which could lead to administrative charges against Pantaleo, who remains on desk duty.

The developments in the Garner case come just a week after a grand jury in St Louis decided not to indict the white police officer who shot Brown, which prompted violent protests.

Unlike in Ferguson, demonstrations in New York have remained peaceful.

Die-in protest

At the Grand Central Station in Manhattan, activists organised a silent die-in protest action on Wednesday.

The protesters laid motionless on the ground in the main hall of the transit hub during rush hour. Police stood by, some carrying flexcuffs in preparation for potential arrests.

While most of the protesters closed their eyes and remained silent during the action, some participants spoke to reporters and passersby.

“Don’t allow racist cops to join the force,” Soraya SoiFree, 45, told Al Jazeera, laying on the marble floor. “And rookies need to be better trained… This is a human rights issue.”

At nearby Times Square, hundreds of protesters blocking walkways chanted over and over in unison: “Help! Help! Can’t Breathe!” – the words used by Garner as he was choked.

Videotaped chokehold

The grand jury could have considered a range of charges, from a murder charge to a lesser offence like reckless endangerment.

A video shot by an onlooker and widely viewed on the Internet showed the 43-year-old Garner telling a group of police officers to leave him alone as they tried to arrest him.

Pantaleo responded by wrapping his arm around Garner’s neck in an apparent chokehold, which is banned under NYPD policy. The heavyset Garner, who had asthma, was heard repeatedly gasping, “I can’t breathe!”

A second video surfaced that showed police and paramedics appearing to make no effort to revive Garner while he lay motionless on the ground. He later died at a hospital.

The medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide and found that a chokehold contributed to it.

Dr Michael Baden, agreed with those findings, saying there was haemorrhaging on Garner’s neck indicative of neck compressions.

Police union officials and Pantaleo’s lawyer have argued that the officer used a takedown move taught by the police department, not a chokehold, because he was resisting arrest and that Garner’s poor health was the main reason he died. Al Jazeera

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