OAKLAND, Calif./NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. West Coast cities were braced for trouble on Sunday, after a night of clashes in Berkeley, California, and Seattle, as fresh protests started against police violence over the death of a black man who was put in a chokehold by a police officer.
Protesters in New York and other cities have staged demonstrations every day since a grand jury’s decision on Wednesday not to bring criminal charges against the white police officer whose chokehold contributed to the man’s death in New York in July.
The looting and rock-throwing on the West Coast were a departure from the mostly peaceful demonstrations that have taken place elsewhere. New York itself was quieter over the weekend.
The killings of Eric Garner in New York and Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, in Ferguson, Missouri, have highlighted the strained relations between police and African-Americans and rekindled a national debate over race relations in the United States.
The decision by a grand jury to return no indictment in Brown’s killing ignited two nights of arson and rioting in the St. Louis suburbs.
Early Sunday evening, hundreds of protesters started marching down a main thoroughfare in Berkeley after massing on the campus of the University of California. Officer Jenn Coats of the Berkeley Police Department estimated the crowd at 500 to 600. She said they were marching peacefully.
On Saturday evening, what began as a peaceful march ended in an extended confrontation between demonstrators and police, resulting in six arrests, damage to local businesses and a minor injury to a police officer.
“There were definitely a group of people that were intent on violence,” Coats said.
About 200 people gathered in downtown Seattle on Sunday evening, a day after a demonstration drew more than 1,000 protesters, with some throwing rocks and attacking police in clashes that resulted in seven arrests.
On Sunday, New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said the department’s internal investigation into Garner’s death could last four months.
He said he would review the results of the investigation to decide whether officers involved in Garner’s arrest had violated NYPD policies. The Justice Department is conducting its own investigation to determine if Garner’s civil rights were violated.
“I CAN‘T BREATHE”
In Chicago, church-affiliated protesters marched through the city on Sunday carrying signs and chanting “I can’t breathe” and “Hands up, don’t shoot,” local TV news footage showed.
Protesters in Miami blocked a portion of Interstate 195 Sunday afternoon, clogging traffic to the Art Basel show in Miami Beach, CBS-TV Miami reported.
An activist posted a photograph of a crowd estimated at 200 people rallying in Oakland, near Berkeley.
The outcry over the recent killings surfaced in NFL stadiums as well. Detriot Lions running back Reggie Bush was among several players donning pre-game practice jerseys reading “I can’t breathe,” Garner’s dying words.
Outside Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia after the Eagles game against the Seattle Seahawks, a clergy group planned a “die-in,” lying down on the pavement in silent show of solidarity with Garner and Brown.
Garner’s widow, Esaw Snipes-Garner, said in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that patrol officers in Staten Island knew her husband well and repeatedly harassed him.
But she played down the racial aspects of the case when asked how she felt about her husband becoming the “face” of bias in law enforcement.
“I feel that he was murdered unjustly,” she said. “I don’t even feel like it’s a black and white thing, honestly.”
The protests in New York on Sunday were modest and good spirited. About 30 protesters, among them professional opera singers, gathered at Penn Station to sing Christmas carols modified with lyrics lamenting recent cases of police violence against African-American males. [ID:nL1N0TR0KM]
The event, which drew smiles from onlookers, was in contrast to the more charged protests on the West Coast.
Kumar Kunwar, the manager of a Food Mart store in Berkeley, said on Sunday he was worried about lawlessness when protesters gathered, even if activists strived to remain peaceful.
“There are the activists, but there are also people following behind, white people, black people, who are looking at opportunities for robbery,” Kunwar said. “I wish people would realize that when they schedule these marches.”
Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York, Jonathan Kaminsky in New Orleans, Kevin Murphy in Kansas City, Victoria Cavaliere in Seattle; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by David Evans, Nick Zieminski and Alan Raybould