For a stark contrast in the use and misuse of power, look no further than the Eric Garner protests in New York City and the incident that bore them. As I walked among demonstrators protesting a grand jury’s decision not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner, it was clear that the sheer number of (unarmed) protesters could have physically overwhelmed the throngs of police officers standing in their way, if the protesters were so inclined. But like the protests on Wednesday, these demonstrations were peaceful.
At multiple points, protesters overcame police blockades up the West Side Highway without resorting to physical violence, which is more than can be said of Pantaleo and three of his fellow officers, who on the afternoon of July 17, decided to physically overpower 43 year-old Eric Garner by choking him, forcing him to the ground, and pressing his head into the sidewalk, which precipitated his cardiac arrest. The police suspected that Garner was illegally selling lose cigarettes from untaxed packs, although it’s not even clear he had such cigarettes in his possession when he was killed.
“BLACK LIVES MATTER!”
Marching up Broadway in Manhattan on Thursday night, protesters chanted, “Black lives matter” and “Eric Garner, Michael Brown! Shut the whole system down!”
Eventually, the crowd made its way to the West Side Highway and marched north on the northbound side, (as a couple of people smacked around a tennis court unphased by it all).
Upon encountering a police barrier, protesters chanted, “Let us through!” as a cop with a megaphone told those of us taking footage to get off the median.
“GO A-ROUND! GO A-ROUND!”
Instead of using physical force to overwhelm the police as the police did with Eric Garner, protesters simply circumvented them by taking to the unblocked southbound side and continuing to head north.
That meant walking by motorists temporarily stranded on the highway.
Although there were more than 200 arrests on Thursday night and a scuffle at the State Island Ferry Whitehall Terminal, the level of restraint shown by thousands of people outraged by a gross injustice is nothing short of remarkable. And it’s just too bad that we can’t reasonably expect the same from cops like Daniel Pantaleo, who now won’t be remembered for whatever lives he may have protected, but will instead be known for the one he ended.