BERKELEY, Calif./NEW YORK (Reuters) - Students at medical schools around the United States planned “die-ins” to protest the chokehold death by police of an unarmed black man and New York activists demanded the city take action after a grand jury declined to indict the officer involved.
Protests intensified last week after the grand jury decision to not charge a white New York City police officer in the July death of Eric Garner, who was unarmed. The decision came a week after a Missouri grand jury did not indict a white officer in the shooting death of an unarmed black teen.
In New York, a group calling itself the NY Justice League asked local officials to fire Officer Daniel Pantaleo over Garner’s death. They also urged the state to name a special prosecutor to investigate the Garner case and called for clearer laws regarding police use of lethal force.
The group later held a press conference to announce it had the support of hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons and recording artists including Common and Immortal Technique.
Simmons, who is behind the music label Def Jam Records, said he had spoken with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio about the group’s demands.
“Their demands are so legitimate and so easy to understand,” Simmons said. “The fact is that we’re not going away.”
Students at 70 medical schools around the country including in Chicago, Atlanta and Boston planned die-ins for Wednesday to protest the killings.
At National Basketball Association games some players including Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant and Cleveland Cavalier LeBron James wore T-shirts during warm-ups that read, “I can’t breathe,” Garner’s last words.
The finding not to charge Pantaleo followed a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for fatally shooting black teenager Michael Brown in August in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. Wilson has since resigned.
The two killings have aggravated already strained relations between police and black Americans and rekindled a national debate over race relations.
In Berkeley, California, which has a history of social activism, hundreds of protesters faced police in riot gear and stone throwing was met by teargas.
A planned meeting of the Berkeley City Council was canceled on Tuesday after demonstrators vowed to shut it down. Closure of a regional commuter line station was attributed to what officials called a “civil disturbance”.
The previous night, more than 150 protesters were arrested around Berkeley after shutting down a major freeway and throwing rocks at police.
Additional reporting by Peter Henderson and Stephen Lam in Oakland, California, and Emmett Berg in San Francisco; Editing by Toni Reinhold