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New York Braces For More Demonstrations Over Eric Garner


Demonstrators in New York City are taking to the streets for a second night. Protests began yesterday after a grand jury decision was announced there that a white police officer will not be indicted for his involvement in the death of an unarmed black man. Eric Garner died several hours after being placed in a chokehold during an arrest.

Today, New York's mayor and police commissioner tried to reassure the public that reforms are underway at the NYPD.

NPR's Joel Rose has the latest.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Mayor Bill de Blasio says he can understand why some New Yorkers might have their doubts about law enforcement today, but he insists that change is happening at the NYPD.


BILL DE BLASIO: People need to know that black lives and brown lives matter as much as white lives.

ROSE: De Blasio spoke today at the police academy in Queens. After Eric Garner's death in July, the police commissioner ordered new training in use of force for every member of the NYPD. De Blasio watched some of that training in person today.


DE BLASIO: One of the focal points today here at the academy will be changing how our officers talk, changing how they listen, slowing down some interactions that sometimes escalate too quickly, using less force whenever possible. These are fundamental lessons that will be taught here.

ROSE: Garner's death has left De Blasio with a difficult balancing act. On one hand, he's trying to offer some reassurance to thousands of New Yorkers who are horrified by the cell phone video of Garner being wrestled to the ground by police, and who are disappointed in the grand jury's decision not to indict. People like Barbara Coles (ph) of Queens, who says it's going to be hard for the NYPD to rebuild trust.

BARBARA COLES: Especially with the minority community, blacks and Hispanics, (unintelligible) I am both. It's going to take a lot of work because now they don't trust them and now they're scared of them, and now it's more so I'm scared rather than I feel like you're going to protect me.

ROSE: But at the same time, the mayor has to think about another important constituency - the 35,000 officers of the nation's largest police force. And right now, many cops are not happy with the mayor.


PATRICK LYNCH: Police officers feel like they're thrown under the bus.

ROSE: Patrick Lynch is president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the police officers' union. Lynch praised the grand jury for making what he calls the right decision about a tragic but accidental death, and he says Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the white police officer at the center of the investigation, hasn't gotten enough credit.


LYNCH: He literally is an Eagle Scout. And I think that story's not being told, that a city resident went out and did a difficult job there, a job where there's no script and sometimes with that there's tragedy that comes.

ROSE: Officer Pantaleo has not spoken publicly since the decision. In a statement, Pantaleo said he never intended to harm anyone and offered his condolences for the Garner family. Pantaleo did tell his side of the story to the grand jury, but the details of what he and the other witnesses said have not been released. Critics, including Marc Moriel of the National Urban League, are blasting the grand jury process itself as flawed.


MARC MORIEL: This is a moment where our consciousness is shot. Yesterday's decision by the Staten Island grand jury defied common sense.

ROSE: Moriel was in Harlem today for a summit organized by the National Action Network. Its founder, Reverend Al Sharpton, has been advising the Garner family. Sharpton is calling for federal prosecutors to take over police abuse cases because local prosecutors are too closely aligned with the police they're charged with investigating.


AL SHARPTON: Federal intervention had to come into the South to protect people's civil rights and voting rights. Federal intervention must come now and protect people from state grand juries that keep exonerating any re-seeking of redress on police matters.

ROSE: Sharpton's organization plans to make its case in Washington in a demonstration later this month. In a statement, Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan described his office's investigation as fair, thorough and responsible. Today a judge released limited information about that grand jury, that it saw dozens of exhibits and heard from 50 witnesses, but the details of what the jury heard will remain secret. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.