WASHINGTON—Thousands of protesters chanting “I can’t breathe” are taking to the streets across the nation as outrage spreads against police murder of Eric Garner and hundreds of other innocent, unarmed Black men and youth. That protest reached the halls of Congress in the nation’s capital this week.
“I can’t breathe” were the dying words of Eric Garner, 43, as a white police officer clamped a chokehold on the unarmed man on Staten Island last July. A video proved that the officer, assisted by other officers who pinned Garner to the ground, murdered Garner. Yet a grand jury refused to indict his killer and his accomplices, igniting angry protests in New York City and across the nation.
Police arrested 150 protesters in Oakland, Calif., the night of Dec. 8 for blocking the on-ramp to I-80 and for blocking an Amtrak train by sitting down on the tracks. In New York City, that same night, basketball star LeBron James and other members of the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA basketball team wore tee shirts emblazoned with the words, “I Can’t Breathe.”
The gathering storm will hit Washington this week when eight mothers of unarmed Black men killed by police will testify Dec. 10 in a House hearing sponsored by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Thousands are scheduled to demonstrate in “Freedom Plaza” Saturday Dec. 13 in response to a call by the Rev. Al Sharpton and his National Action Network. Rev. Sharpton referred to news reports that Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot unarmed Black youth, Michael Brown to death in Ferguson, Mo., last August, will be terminated from the police force. The issue, Sharpton said, “is not Wilson’s job. The issue is justice for (Michael) Brown….In my view, the prosecutor was so determined not to move forward with the case that he misused a grand jury and therefore dealt a setback to….police accountability in this country.”
Sharpton added, “There must be a sustained nonviolent protest because we are grappling with the very real issue of police misconduct and fairness within the criminal justice system. And until there is substantive federal oversight, we will not stop marching and raising our voices.”
The NAACP had staged a “March from Ferguson to Jefferson City,” gathering at the Governor’s mansion to demand action after a grand jury likewise refused to indict officer Darren Wilson for murdering Michael Brown. The NAACP is also urging the U.S. Senate to approve the “Death In Custody Reporting Act” sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn). The House approved the bill unanimously in 2013. If the Senate, now a majority Democrat, fails to enact the law, it is unlikely to be revived for another two years or more. The NAACP points out that an estimated 1,000 people die in custody each year. “The current lack of uniform reporting has made it nearly impossible to ascertain patterns of how many, or exactly in what manner people are dying in the custody of law enforcement.”
The British magazine, The Economist, released a survey showing that police in the United States shot to death 409 people in 2012, all ruled “justifiable homicide.” That same year, British police shot to death not a single human being. Japan also had zero fatal shootings by police. Germany had eight fatal shootings by police.
Photo: Dave Bledsoe , Eric Garner Protest Union Square to Rockefeller Center, Taking to the streets to protest that Grand Jury Verdict on Eric Garner. CC 2.0 generic.