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83 People Arrested as Thousands Protest Eric Garner Decision

By  Ben Fractenberg Jeanmarie Evelly and Sybile Penhirin | December 3, 2014 6:02pm | Updated on December 3, 2014 9:24pm

 Protesters objected to the grand jury's decision Dec. 3, 2014 not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.
Protests Follow Grand Jury Decision Not to Indict in Eric Garner Death
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NEW YORK CITY — Protesters angry over a grand jury's decision to clear an NYPD officer of wrongdoing in the death of Eric Garner tried to push through police barricades Wednesday night to disrupt the annual Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting ceremony.

Throughout the night, that group of roving protesters and others converged on one another and split off again at various times, clogging major roadways including the West Side Highway, Columbus Circle, Brooklyn Bridge and Times Square.

By Thursday morning, 83 people had been arrested throughout the city, an NYPD spokesman said. Most of those who were arrested faced charges of disorderly conduct.

Hundreds of people marched from Times Square and Union Square to Rockefeller Center, chanting "I can't breathe" and "hands up, don't shoot."

"We need to bring awareness to the injustice of what's going on in America," said Bronx resident Celeste Valentine. "You can't go on lighting a tree like that's OK, like everything's OK."

Streets around Rockefeller Center were already closed for the annual Christmas tree lighting, but the protesters managed to push their way to the Avenue of the Americas and 48th Street, a block away from the event.

Another group marched from Times Square to the West Side Highway, temporarily shutting down traffic before police started making arrests.

Earlier, on Staten Island, dozens gathered on Bay Street chanting “no justice, no peace, no racist police” near where a passerby's cellphone camera recorded NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo grappling with Garner during his arrest for allegedly selling loose cigarettes in July.

The city's medical examiner ruled his death a homicide and said a chokehold used by Pantaleo was partly to blame.

"I don't understand how the coroner could declare it a homicide, they said a chokehold was illegal, our commissioner said it was against the rules,” said Jeanette Johnson, who was friends with Garner. “But the chokehold today was OK. A man died but I guess that's OK. It's OK if it’s a police officer.”

Johnson added that she planned to protest peacefully.

"We will not tear up Bay Street. Eric would not appreciate that,” she said. “He was not about tearing up. He was about peace. And these businesses were his friends."

Meanwhile, more than a dozen people lay down on the floor in Grand Central Terminal at the start of rush hour in a silent protest.

Chris Cannon, 20, a student at Fordham University, said they were symbolizing "people who are victims of police brutality, who are beaten and killed by the police.”

"We’re here because we’ve been let down by the justice system again,” Cannon said. 

Another protester held a sign that read, “Black Lives Matter, Justice for Eric.”

Those protesters then began to make their way to Times Square, where others had gathered to speak out about the Garner decision.

"No indictment is denial. We want a proper trial," hundreds of demonstrators chanted in Times Square before moving on to Rockefeller Center.

On 145th Street in Harlem, residents also expressed outrage.

"I'm shocked. I would like to know why," said handyman Nelson Gagun, 58. "It's like nobody f***ing cares."

Educator Bertha Williams, 72, said even though the video clearly showed what happened she expected the decision.  

"I have sons. Thank God my sons didn't go through something like that," Williams said. "I'm not surprised. I'm not surprised about racism in America. I'm old, I went through desegregation in the south."

Mayor Bill de Blasio promised police reforms in the wake of the grand jury decision.

“We have initiated a comprehensive plan to retrain the entire NYPD to reduce the use of excessive force and to work with the community. We have changed our marijuana policy to reduce low-level arrests, and we have launched a new pilot program for body cameras for officers to improve transparency and accountability,” the mayor said in a statement.

De Blasio added that he trusts protesters will “make their views known in the same peaceful, constructive way."

The mayor said Garner’s death should “put a spotlight on police-community relations.”

"This is a deeply emotional day  for the Garner Family, and all New Yorkers. His death was a terrible tragedy that no family should have to endure,” the mayor said. “This is a subject that is never far from my family’s minds  or our hearts.”

With additional reporting from Nick Rizzi, Katie Honan, Danielle Tcholakian, Gustavo Solis and Lisha Arino.