Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Tamir Rice.
The names have become rallying cries to protesters across the U.S. who are demanding changes to police tactics and reforms in the judicial system.
The announcement Wednesday that a New York City police officer would not face charges in the death of Garner sparked angry protests that joined with those already demanding justice for the death of Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
The debates over police militarization, racial profiling, rioting, body cameras and civil rights have engulfed the nation for the past month. But a pair of announcements from local grand juries not to indict white police officers in the death of unarmed black men has led to protests nationwide for much of the past two weeks.
Protesters in both Washington, D.C. and New York City tried to disrupt Christmas tree lighting ceremonies. Police tried to keep the protests away from the televised ceremony in Rockefeller Plaza in New York Wednesday night, prompting some complaints that security was so tight tourists weren’t able to get in either.
Protests continued for a second night Thursday, fanning out to many of America’s major cities — Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago, Detroit, Denver and Minneapolis all saw significant demonstrations — in addition to New York itself.
In Chicago, hundreds planned to disrupt Thursday night’s NFL game between the Bears and the Dallas Cowboys, but were kept away by police and instead briefly blocked the Dan Ryan Expressway.
In New York, thousands filled the streets of Manhattan chanting the slogans “I can’t breathe” and “No justice, no peace.” They also blocked or disrupted traffic around several of the city’s most iconic routes — the Brooklyn Bridge, the Holland Tunnel, the Manhattan Bridge and the West Side Highway.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday he would overhaul the training of the city’s police officers.
“A whole generation of officers will be trained in a new way,” he said at a press conference. “These changes are happening because the people demanded it.”
Deputy police commissioner Benjamin Tucker said the changes would include a mentoring program for rookie officers that would help focus on “positive community interaction.”
Despite calls for the arrest of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, his attorney, Stuart London, said Thursday he did not believe the officer would face any additional federal charges.
“There’s very specific guidelines that are not met in this case,” Mr. London said. “This is a regular street encounter. It doesn’t fall into the parameters.”
Civil rights leader Al Sharpton called upon the federal government to step in and fix the issues at the state level.
“The federal government must do in the 21st century what it did in the mid-20th century,” Mr. Sharpton said. “Federal intervention must come now and protect people from state grand juries.”
Many are looking to the federal government’s own investigations in hope that charges might be filed against Mr. Pantaleo and Officer Darren Wilson.
Following the grand jury’s announcement Wednesday night, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department would be launching its own review of the events surrounding the death of Garner. The agency is already investigating accusations of abuse by the Ferguson police.
In a possible preview of how those investigations might go, Mr. Holder announced Thursday that investigators had found “a pattern or practice of unreasonable and unnecessary use of force” at the Cleveland Division of Police.
Though stemming from incidents in 2012 and 2013, the announcement comes just one month after Cleveland police shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who they believed was carrying a gun. Rice was instead carrying a BB gun.
DOJ investigators found an “unnecessary and excessive use of deadly force” by Cleveland police, as well as the retaliatory use of non-lethal methods to punish suspects, including “Tasers, chemical spray and fists,” according to the report.
“Accountability and legitimacy are essential for communities to trust their police departments, and for there to be genuine collaboration between police and the citizens they serve,” Mr. Holder said in a statement.
“There are real, practical and concrete measures that can be taken to ensure not only that police services are delivered in a constitutional manner, but that promote public safety, officer safety, confidence and collaboration, transparency, and legitimacy,” he continued.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta said that the Cleveland Division of Police must “undergo a complete cultural shift if constitutional policing is to become a core division value.”
Many have echoed the calls for the reform of the culture of police stations and their often antagonized relationship with the communities they serve, and Mr. Holder has previously said the DOJ will be working with local police organizations to try to rebuild trust between officers and citizens.
Civil rights questions have also appeared in Eutawville, South Carolina. Richard Combs, the white former police chief of the small town, was charged with murder Thursday for a 2011 incident where he fatally shot an unarmed black man.
Speaker of the House John Boehner, Ohio Republican, also weighed in on the national turmoil Thursday, saying that people need to know more about what happened in Garner’s death.
“The American people deserve more answers about what really happened here,” said Mr. Boehner. “And was our system of justice handled properly?”
Rep. Marcia Fudge, Ohio Democrat and chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said she was “deeply disappointed” by the grand jury decisions not to indict police officers.
“In the span of two weeks, this nation seems to have heard one message loud and clear: there will be no accountability for taking Black lives,” she said. “As an American, it is growing increasingly difficult to believe that there is justice for all.”
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