Garner Supporters Rally, Call for Congressional Action

Advocates for the families of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and others on Saturday turned their focus to a national protest effort, detailing plans to march on Washington to call for Congressional action.

"We're going to the national government where we can get some permanent justice," the Rev. Al Sharpton said at a rally in Harlem, where he appeared with Garner's family and Benjamin Crump, the lawyer for the families of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin.

Marchers will gather Dec. 13 in Washington to call on Congress to hold hearings and pass legislation improving the state grand juries that choose whether or not to indict police officers who kill civilians, Sharpton said.

They are also calling for increased funding for civil rights investigations and a shift in federal rules that would make it easier for the U.S. Justice Department to take action in similar cases, Sharpton said.

"I just hope that this march on Washington really brings some attention," said Esaw Garner, the widow of the unarmed 43-year-old who died after being placed in a police chokehold while being arrested. "I have two sons that I still have to raise out here, and I don't want this to happen to my sons or anybody else's sons, father, husband."

The rally Saturday followed three days of demonstrations around the city after a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in Garner's death.

Protesters tried to provoke police at Grand Central Station after staging a "die in" Saturday, but officers remained composed. About 150 people packed the station, just one stop in a day of protesting that crisscrossed the city.

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets and stores in Manhattan Friday night, starting at Columbus Circle. They marched to the flagship Apple store on Fifth Avenue and stormed the famous glass cube, going down the stairs and flooding the shop as they chanted "Black lives matter" and "I can't breathe."

Customers inside the store and employees appeared surprised as the protesters started filing in, then watched as the protesters marched, chanted and later, staged a "die-in" and lay on the ground.

Police officers walked along with the protesters, monitoring the demonstration and keeping order.

After leaving the Apple store, the protesters went to Macy's in Herald Square and marched through the department store. They went on to Grand Central Terminal and then to Bryant Park, where they also staged die-ins. Others protested on Wall Street.

It's not clear why the protesters went to those particular stores to demonstrate.

"I didn't decide that [destination], but I think the message is this is not business as usual," said Joyce Skurski.

Macy's had no comment. Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

At Bryant Park Friday, Ani Charles protested along with her 9-year-old and 13-year-old children.

"I'm here because I really do not want this to be the future for our children," she said. "I want people to know black lives matter."

While large, the crowd was far from the thousands who flooded streets, blocked traffic and lay down in roads during Thursday night's protests. Police said 223 people were arrested in those demonstrations, a bulk of them on charges of disorderly conduct and a few for minor assaults on police officers. The number of arrests on Friday night was down to about 20, police said.

On Wednesday, the day the grand jury issued its vote not to indict Pantaleo, 83 people were arrested.

NBC 4 New York learned Friday that Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan asked grand jurors to consider manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide charges, and not a lesser charge of reckless endangerment. It's not clear why he left the lesser charge off the table, and he has said strict confidentiality laws surrounding grand jury proceedings prevent him from discussing the details of the case.

The protests have been largely peaceful and non-violent, with very little vandalism, according to NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, who also praised police officers for practicing restraint during the marches.

FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said Friday that fire truck and ambulance response times to emergencies have not been affected by the protests so far.

Pantaleo said in a statement Wednesday that he became a police officer to help people.

"It is never my intention to harm anyone and I feel very bad about the death of Mr. Garner," he said. "My family and I include him and his family in our prayers and I hope that they will accept my personal condolences for their loss.”


-- Jonathan Vigliotti contributed to this report. 

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