A group of more than 100 staged a peaceful rally in downtown Cincinnati on Thursday evening remembering Eric Garner, the 42-year-old man who died after New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo administered a choke hold on him last July.
A New York grand jury announced yesterday it would not hand down an indictment for Pantaleo, despite video footage showing Garner offering little resistance and posing no threat to officers during the incident. The announcement has triggered protests across the country, including massive unrest in New York City, where thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets in anger. The decision is yet another chapter in the nation's recent struggle with racially charged police killings.
The officers involved say they only used the force necessary to subdue Garner and that previous health conditions including asthma contributed to his death.
Demonstrators in Cincinnati faced freezing rain and icy temperatures during the hour-and-a-half long event, which started at Piatt Park on Vine Street before briefly shutting down the street as protesters marched to Fountain Square. There, the group, which had been chanting "black lives matter" and Garner's last words, "I can't breathe," observed a few moments of silence for Garner and others who have died at the hands of police. Amid the swishing sound of a few ice skaters on the square's rink and Jingle Bells blasting over its PA system, many quietly laid on the ground with their hands up.
“I can’t just sit on a couch and watch TV and just watch it happen," said attendee Anna Alexander later. "I have to do something. It’s good to see that people actually care, that people are actually awake.”
Among attendees was State Senator Cecil Thomas, who spoke out against recent racially charged killings by police, including the shooting of Tamir Rice in Cleveland and John Crawford III in Beavercreek. Both were shot by police while holding toy guns.
"Folks, the fact of the matter is, this stuff has to stop,” Thomas said. “We’re not against good police officers. But when an officer does something like what I saw in the video from Cleveland, from New York, in Ferguson, none of that fits into the training I was trained on. It made no sense.”
Thomas served 27 years in the Cincinnati Police Department. He was a key mediator between the police and community during Cincinnati’s civil unrest of 2001, after black teenager Timothy Thomas was killed by white Cincinnati Police Officer Stephen Roach in Over-the-Rhine.
Thursday’s demonstrations come less than a week after a similar wave of protests happened in cities across the country, including Cincinnati, over a grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson, a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., who shot unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown Aug 9. That shooting ignited civil unrest in the St. Louis suburb, as well as protests across the country.
More than 300 people came to a Nov. 24 rally and solidarity march in Cincinnati that lasted three hours and resulted in 15 arrests, some of which came after protesters briefly marched onto I-75 after it was blocked off by police. The last of those protesters was released on bond Thursday.