A New York City grand jury on Wednesday declined to indict a police officer in the chokehold related death of Eric Garner, a 43 years old resident of Staten Island, sparking a wave of protests that were supported by many NYC religious leaders and congregations. Both conservative and liberal religionists were strongly criticizing the decision.
Mayor Di Blasio met with the Garner family and held a press conference at Mount Sinai Christian Church in Staten Island. Religious protesters across the city mobilized to go into Manhattan to join protests that were spontaneously happening there. The religious protestors in New York City resembled those in Ferguson, Missouri, who were adamant against the injustice and insistent that the protest should be peaceful. Reverend A. R. Bernard, the pastor of the largest congregation in the city, tweeted, "NYC is in a lot of pain tonight, but we must not express that pain in violence." He added, "Unfortunately, America's history forces us to emphasize that 'Black Lives Matters'." The sentiment was also tweeted by many pastors around the city like Jon Tyson of Trinity Grace, a church with nine congregations scattered in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
The decision brought a quick reaction from President Barack Obama, who said Garner’s death “speaks to the larger issues” of trust between police and civilians. He renewed a call to take actions to repair the trust. On August 18th, speaking of the crisis provoked by the shooting death of an African American youth in Ferguson, Missouri, the president observed, "I’ve said this before -- in too many communities around the country, a gulf of mistrust exists between local residents and law enforcement. In too many communities, too many young men of color are left behind and seen only as objects of fear. Through initiatives like My Brother’s Keeper, I'm personally committed to changing both perception and reality."
A video of Garner’s final moments showed that the white officer, Daniel Pantaleo, had his arm wrapped around Garner’s neck as if in the performance of a chokehold to wrestle him to the ground. Garner said that he didn't want to be hassled again over selling untaxed cigarettes and passively resisted being put to the ground. Soon, Garner starts saying "I can't breathe" and passes away. His death was ruled a homicide, and New York Police Department officials have said that the chokehold is against police rules but not against the law.
Last night’s march from Times Square and Rockefeller was fairly unorganized, occasionally massive, and as it moved from Times Square to downtown, it grew thin as protestors went in different directions. It was a pretty eclectic crowd, containing a wide range of ages and cultural backgrounds. There were some people who appeared very serious about why they were there. The fact that a young man had been killed did not leave their minds or faces.
There were others who very much seemed like they joined the crowd looking for a party, and took the time in between chanting slogans to hang out.
Many of the marchers drew inspiration from the support shown from other pedestrians, the drivers of passing cars honking their horns and raising their fists in solidarity, and voices leading protest chants from third-story open apartment building windows.
Most of the religious leaders present in the march and other gatherings around the city were formulating their plans and schedules as they went. Several protests are planned tomorrow; some churches are having discussion and prayer meetings on their front porches; artists and musicians are already launching paintings and songs into the fray.
The Day My Faith in America Died
When I heard the news about Eric Garner, my casual faith in America died -- and I am thankful for its death.
My casual faith in America is the part of me -- thoroughly grounded in white privilege -- that has believed without overmuch reflection that our country values equality of all races at its core; that our laws and policing are color blind in their practice; that the efforts of politicians, business leaders and clergy are sincerely geared towards serving all the people;and that America is steadily progressing on the path towards a 'more perfect union,' to quote our president.
My 'faith' in America was based on things hoped for but as yet unseen (to borrow from Hebrews 11:1). But more importantly, it was based on things hoped for, but not worked for -- at least not very hard. Contrary to much that I intellectually knew to be true about the vicious, pernicious nature of racism, I held onto a lazy faith that racism in America would slowly erode itself through some kind of magical process of good will that required little of me aside from a friendly disposition and a hopeful spirit.
That faith, which was blind and useless, died when I watched the video of Eric Garner being choked to death at the hands of an officer who has now been let off without even a trial.
I thank God for my loss of faith.
Carl Lenz, Hillsong NYC, instagram:
NYC doesn't sleep on the best of days.. And it's absolutely awake on this hard day..we have@hillsongnyc family throughout these confrontations, police officers and protesters.. change in our country is needed and overdue, prayers for our city are powerful and coveted.. MLK once said that violent protests are not to be condoned but need to be understood.. He called it "the language of the unheard"..these current events absolutely transcend race and politics..speaks to a greater unrest and frustration towards cultural injustice that is deeply rooted.. Because our hope is Jesus, not politics, we can find peace in the storm..Change will come, and we appreciate the prayers for peace in our city and beyond tonight... #occupyallstreets #alwaysonlyjesus
July 31, 2014 meeting of religious leaders with Mayor's Office on how to prevent future tragedies like the death of Eric Garner:
Reported by Tony Carnes and Pauline Dolle.