BY JACKIE STRAWBRIDGE
Jackson Heights locals joined the City-wide response to a Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner, chanting “Black lives matter, all lives matter,” on a march to Diversity Plaza Wednesday night.
A contingent of about 20 local parents, neighbors and community organizers – as well as a few passersby who stopped to listen – met before the march at the 37th Avenue post office. Standing on the post office steps, protesters took turns voicing their reactions to the decision to end the case against Pantaleo, who was filmed in July using a fatal chokehold on Garner in Staten Island.
The overwhelming sentiment was outrage.
Laura Newman, a lead organizer behind Wednesday’s protest, said she was “horrified” by the decision. Fahd Ahmed of the DRUM South Asian Organizing Center called the decision “outrageous,” while resident Milton Toujillo called it a “slap in the face” to the City’s communities of color.
“Honestly, I just wanted to cry,” Toujillo added.
Most protesters framed Garner’s death within their frustration with broken windows policing in the City and the local community.
Steven Molina of the Justice Committee came to the protest wearing a Cop Watch t-shirt, representing the Committee’s project of observing and documenting police-work in real time as an effort to combat abuse.
“We need to begin to put forth real mechanisms of accountability, community control, community input on how policing is done. Those are some beginning steps to a wound that’s been bleeding since forever,” Molina said.
Both Ahmed and Tania Mattos of Queens Neighborhoods United made specific reference to police harassment and a high number of Stop and Frisks that they said they are aware of within Jackson Heights.
Mattos said, “it’s really a time of real concern and that we feel like may happen, something like that – a death or police abuse – will continue to happen in our communities.”
Mattos and a number of others also called for the removal of Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, whose focus on quality of life offenses they said exacerbates tension between police and communities of color.
Toujillo also noted that local undocumented residents “might feel like they cannot do anything because they say if Black lives don’t matter, and they’ve been citizens of this country for long – if someone like Eric Garner who’s supposed to be protected by the Constitution, who’s supposed to have all these rights – if his life doesn’t matter, then I matter even less.”
At the end of the march, protesters held a moment of silence for Sean Bell and Noel Polanco, two unarmed young men, Black and Hispanic, respectively, who were fatally shot by police officers in Queens.
Speaking in closing at Diversity Plaza, Newman said she looks to her local community – one that celebrates and takes pride in its diversity – as a potential “nexus of change” moving forward.
“We ought to be able to do it here, we ought to be able to do it in the whole City,” she said.
Reach Reporter Jackie Strawbridge at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, firstname.lastname@example.org or