Op Ed: Garner Protests a Win for History

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By Steven Ragnauth
Photos by Erickson Abreu and ericksonabreu.com

“Hands up, don’t shoot!” roared in unison from thousands of angry New Yorkers as the city unified in a peaceful, yet brilliant, protest on December 4, 2014.

Thousands of protesters swarmed the city streets from Times Square to Union Square and as far as Staten Island, halting traffic and battling police officers as a peaceful response to the verdict following the Eric Garner case on December 3, 2014.

A grand jury decided not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo after he put Eric Garner in a chokehold (a tactic banned by the NYPD) which resulted in Garner’s death.

Officer Justin Damico first approached Garner for selling “loosies” or loose cigarettes. After Garner said he was tired of the harassment and false accusations, police then attempted to arrest him. Officer Pantaleo, who was also present, then wrapped his arms around Garner in a chokehold for close to 19 seconds. Video shows Garner saying, “I cant breathe”, 11 times. He died an hour later at the hospital.

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Andrew Stills, 37, was hanging off a light post with his left hand and holding a poster in his right hand that read, “Snakes bleed blue and wear golden badges now!” Stills said it is unfair to give police officers so much power and not have them be accountable for their actions. “Nobody takes responsibility for nothing, they kill you and nothing happens. Someone died, where is the justice?” he said.

Racism and police brutality go hand in hand these days it seems, from cases like Michael Brown and Treyvon Martin, to Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo, and recently Eric Garner. However that racism was no in evidence during the protest. City blocks filled with whites, blacks, Asians, and Hispanics roared in togetherness, marching as if choreographed to do so, and expressed the same feelings.

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Ben Cooks, 19, was with a group of multiracial friends. Cooks said racism is a mentality and that we should think outside the box. “We living in a beautiful time where the color of your skin shouldn’t matter,” said Cooks. “My girl is a light-skin Spanish, and I’m burnt black. Some of my boys are black, some are white, and some are Spanish, but all of them are my brothers,” he said.

Thankfully protesters rallying in New York learned from the people who were wreaking havoc in Ferguson. They demonstrated peacefully, instead of allowing their emotions to get the better of them. Somehow it clicked. You can’t solve ignorant violence with more ignorant violence.

Unlike Ferguson, police didn’t dress in armor or stand behind shields while awaiting an imminent attack, like the 300 Spartans. Officers did what they were put there to do, which was to allow protesters to protest peacefully, and more importantly, understand why this protest took place in the first place.
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You would think as impatient and impulsive as New York is, it would be impossible for the city to remain cool, calm, and collected. But it did.

Traffic was at a standstill for hours, but there was no animosity. Even cab drivers kept their hands off their car horns in respect for people venting their anger. Saif Khan, 36, a cab driver said he wasn’t thrilled with sitting in one spot for hours, but he didn’t mind being a part of this movement. “I made my money today, now I’m just trying to get home, but this, this is quite unique,” said Khan. “I’m not mad, let them yell, I do it everyday.”

The protests ran smoothly, with hiccups here and there. Police arrested about 200 people out of the thousands that had their voice heard as one.
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The anger was channeled. You got a sense of hostility, but not of belligerent violence. It was a safe feeling, ironically, being in a mob of people who were truly tired of racism, police brutality, and the ignorance of our government for creating such a dysfunctional system. I never got the feeling that something was going to happen, something that would turn this night into a frenzy, into a night of terror. This was a win for history. It showed how we as a people could come together, regardless of the hate.

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