December 11, 2014 / 2:38 AM / 4 years ago

U.S. chokehold protesters stage 'die-ins', issue demands in NY

BERKELEY, Calif./NEW YORK (Reuters) - Students at medical schools around the United States staged “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.

An undercover police officer, who had been marching with anti-police demonstrators, aims his gun at protesters after some in the crowd attacked him and his partner in Oakland, California December 10, 2014. REUTERS/Noah Berger

Protests intensified last week after the grand jury decision not to charge a white New York City police officer in the July death of Eric Garner. The decision came roughly a week after a Missouri grand jury did not indict a white officer in the shooting death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown.

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 and called for clearer laws regarding police use of lethal force.

Hip-hop impresario Russell 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 killings of Garner and Brown have aggravated already strained relations between police and black Americans and rekindled a national debate over race relations.

Students at about 70 medical schools around the country including in Chicago, Atlanta and Boston staged die-ins on Wednesday to protest the killings.

Police said more than 100 demonstrators marched in Berkeley, California, which has a history of social activism. Under cloudy skies, turnout was smaller than earlier in the week, when demonstrators in the area threw rocks at police and shut down a major freeway.

Dozens of people were arrested in those actions, but Berkeley police spokeswoman Jennifer Coats said there had been no incidents or arrests on Wednesday night.

In an unusual show of solidarity, the police chief for the nearby city of Richmond on Tuesday joined protesters in his city, and held a sign that read “#blacklivesmatter,” according to the Contra Costa Times.

Separately, at recent National Basketball Association games, some players including Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant and Cleveland Cavalier LeBron James have worn T-shirts during warm-ups that read, “I can’t breathe,” Garner’s last words.

Even though a grand jury has decided against charging Pantaleo, the New York officer, he still faces the possibility of discipline from an internal police investigation.

Additional reporting by Scott Malone in Boston, Peter Henderson and Stephen Lam in Oakland, California, Sharon Bernstein in Berkeley and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Toni Reinhold, Ken Wills and Clarence Fernandez

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