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Washington march planned after verdict on police chokehold death

The US justice department will conduct a federal investigation into the chokehold death of an unarmed black man after a grand jury in New York City declined to indict the white police officer who applied the move.
Protesters in New York demand justice for the death of Eric Garner, as they march past Radio City Music Hall in the Manhattan borough on December 3, 2014. The grand jury decided not to charge white police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of the unarmed black man. Adrees Latif / Reuters
Protesters in New York demand justice for the death of Eric Garner, as they march past Radio City Music Hall in the Manhattan borough on December 3, 2014. The grand jury decided not to charge white police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of the unarmed black man. Adrees Latif / Reuters

NEW YORK // American civil-rights leaders on Thursday announced plans for a march and a summit on racial justice in Washington later this month after a grand jury decided not to charge a white police officer in the chokehold death of a black man.

Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, said the lack of an indictment in the death of Eric Garner was “a travesty of justice”.

He said he and other civil rights leaders were calling for 2015 to be “a year for justice and jobs”.

The decision on Wednesday not to bring charges against New York policeman Daniel Pantaleo triggered protests around the country and sent thousands on to city’s streets, where they marched, chanted and blocked traffic. Police said 83 people were arrested, mostly on disorderly conduct charges.

Mr Pataleo’s lawyer and police union officials argued that the grand jury was right, saying that the officer used an authorised takedown move – not a banned chokehold – against a man who was resisting arrest. They said Garner’s poor health was the main cause of his death.

To find Mr Pantaleo criminally negligent, the grand jury would have had to determine he knew there was a “substantial risk” that Garner would die.

Acting at the Staten Island district attorney’s request, a judge on Thursday released limited details of the grand jury proceedings, including that four videos were shown and 50 witnesses – 22 of them civilians – were heard.

The transcript of the proceedings and the 60 exhibits admitted into evidence were not made public, and the district attorney did not ask that they be released.

About 20 civil rights leaders met behind closed doors at the Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network headquarters. Rev Sharpton said a civil rights summit would be held following a December 13 march in Washington. He said the topics would include education and boycotts.

The Garner case – combined with the decision by a grand jury last week not to charge the white officer who shot and killed unarmed black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri – stirred a national conversation about race, police training and the grand jury process.

On Thursday morning, yet another case was added to the mix: a white former police chief in Eutawville, South Carolina, was indicted on murder charges in the 2011 shooting death of an unarmed black man after an argument at a town hall meeting.

Garner, 43, died after a scuffle that broke out July 17 as officers tried to arrest him for selling untaxed cigarettes on the street. The last moments of his life were caught on video that showed Mr Pantaleo holding the unarmed man in a chokehold as he repeatedly gasped, “I can’t breathe.”

The medical examiner ruled that the chokehold contributed to the death.

District attorney Daniel Donovan said the grand jury found “no reasonable cause” to bring charges. But he gave no further explanation of how the panel arrived at its decision.

Some legal experts said the Garner case, like the one in Ferguson, again raised concerns about the influence local prosecutors have over the process of charging the police officers they work with on a daily basis.

Ekow N Yankah, a professor at the Cardozo School of Law, said: “It is hard to understand how a jury doesn’t see any probable cause that a crime has been committed or is being committed when looking at that video, especially.”

Garner’s widow, Esaw, said she had no faith in the local prosecutors.

“As far as the police and the DA, there was no sincerity from Day One,” she said on the Today show.

The US attorney general Eric Holder said federal prosecutors would conduct their own investigation of Garner’s death. The New York police department is doing an internal investigation that could lead to administrative charges against Mr Pantaleo, who remains on desk duty.

* Associated Press

Updated: December 4, 2014 04:00 AM

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