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Protesters in New York demonstrate over Eric Garner@steveroggenbuck via Twitter

Protests hit NY after Eric Garner chokehold cop goes free

A Staten Island grand jury chose not to indict Daniel Pantaleo of killing the 43-year-old father

"I can't breathe," gasped Eric Garner in the final minutes before he died in a chokehold by New York Police Department (NYPD) officer Daniel Pantaleo. Plainclothes police officers had approached Garner, a 43-year-old asthmatic, believing that was selling cigarettes illegally. The fatal encounter was captured on video, which was later uploaded and viewed around the world. 

A Staten Island grand jury opted not to indict Pantaleo on Wednesday, despite the coroner recording the cause of death as "homicide". Chokeholds have been been outlawed by the NYPD since 1993.

In the wake of the decision not to indict Officer Pantaleo, hundreds of protesters took to the streets of New York, chanting and shouting "This stops today"  and "I can’t breathe". Demonstrators lay down on the ground to stage a "die-in" in the main concourse of Grand Central Terminal.

Other groups brought traffic to a standstill, occupying Brooklyn Bridge and blocking off the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel. Demonstrators also swarmed to Times Square and Union Square in Manhattan. Police made around 30 arrests, despite reports that the protests were mainly peaceful. 

Many protesters were all too keenly aware that it has only been ten days since a St Louis County grand jury cleared Darren Wilson for shooting the unarmed teenager Michael Brown. 

Given that Garner's death was filmed, the decision not to indict Pantaleo makes a mockery out of Barack Obama's recent call for all police officers to wear body cameras. Garner's family say they are shocked that the mobile phone footage – in which Pantaleo can clearly be seen applying the fatal chokehold – was not enough to convince grand jurors to bring Pantaleo to trial. 

You can watch the video below, although it contains graphic scenes that some viewers may find disturbing:

“Were they looking at the same video the rest of the world was looking at?" Garner's mother Gwen Carr said on MSNBC after the decision was announced. "It was like a modern-day lynching. They had it out for him."

Speaking yesterday at the White House Tribal Nations Conference, Obama said that the recent decisions in Ferguson, Missouri and New York highlighted a crucial problem with the American justice system. 

"It is incumbent upon all of us as Americans regardless of race, region, faith that we recognize this is an American problem and not just a black problem or a brown problem or a Native American problem," he stated. "This is an American problem when anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law that's a problem and it's my job as president to help solve it."

But when two grand juries choose not to indict two white police officers in the case of two innocent black deaths, you have to ask who is at fault. The decision to clear both Pantaleo and Darren Wilson proves that the problem is systemic. If an individual cannot be blamed, then the system must be.