CIVIC CENTER — Thousands of people took to the streets blocking bridges and tunnels leading in and out of Manhattan Thursday for the second night of protests over a grand jury's decision not to indict an NYPD officer in the death of Eric Garner.
By Friday morning, more than 200 people had been arrested, bringing the total number of protesters arrested since the decision came down to nearly 300, an NYPD spokesman said.
Crowds packed into Foley Square as protests began about 5:30 p.m., where helicopters flew overhead and demonstrators held up signs while chanting, "No justice, no peace, no racist police."
Franclot Graham, the father of Ramarley Graham — the 18-year-old who was shot and killed by police in his own Bronx home in 2012 — came to Foley Square, where he called for a special prosecutor to investigate police shootings.
"NYPD and the local DA failed us all," Graham said.
Some drivers navigating the crowded streets honked their horns in solidarity with the marchers, while others expressed frustration over the gridlock at a time when city roads are already packed with holiday traffic.
Exchanges between police and demonstrators ranged from moments of communion to violent clashes and arrests.
Arrests became more frequent toward the end of the night. At times police appeared to be arresting marchers at random.
On the West Side Highway near Clarkson Street after the majority of the crowd had passed through about 10 p.m., one officer commanded a group of his colleagues to arrest protesters in the street. "Grab them, just grab somebody. They're all getting discon," the officer said, using police jargon for a disorderly conduct charge.
Jerome Thompson, 44, of Westbury, said police had singled him out randomly.
"I was walking down the street like everyone," he said as police fitted him with plastic handcuffs. "I wasn't asked to get out of street."
The protest went easier for the group at Foley Square.
Led by Graham and family members of other New Yorkers killed by police, demonstrators marched over the Brooklyn Bridge after police cleared the span of any traffic.
There did not appear to be any arrests or any confrontation with police.
A contingent of protesters carried black coffins as they marched, some of the caskets bearing the names of people who had been killed by police.
Once on the other side, police tried to funnel the group down Tillary Street, but the protesters broke through a police line and began marching down Jay Street past the Brooklyn Supreme Court House and the District Attorney's office, chanting "Whose streets? Our streets."
The marchers blocked traffic in front of the Barclays Center, putting down the coffins and laying in the streets for seven minutes in silence to honor the memory of Eric Garner.
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A second gathering of protesters in Union Square marched downtown toward the Holland Tunnel, clapping and chanting "I can't breathe" and "Hands up, don't shoot" as they made their way through the streets.
Keon Treadell, 29, who lives in Brownsville, saw the crowd that had gathered in Union Square on his way to Barnes & Noble and decided to join in.
"I was mad as hell," he said about the Eric Garner decision. "I'm out here for justice for Eric Garner and Michael Brown."
Wes Rose, a 48-year-old security guard from Yonkers, came to Union Square because of "the injustice of the system," he said, adding that he had experienced police brutality living and working in New York.
"Enough is enough, I've been through it, seen it a lot," he said. "I've got my son too, to worry about. He's 15. He's been stopped, too."
Downtown every street and side street on the west side below Canal street became gridlocked as protesters wove in and out of traffic.
Police blocked the entrance of the Holland Tunnel to prevent the crowd from entering.
A couple of motorists frustrated by the gridlock tried to get out of the car, but were ordered back in by police.
At one point, a taxi driver stuck in traffic on Canal Street near Varick Street, poked his head out of his cab and in a French accent shouted "Black lives matter," prompting the crowd join in.
Annoyed drivers on Broadway near Church Street honked angrily at the protesters who responded with the refrain, "If we don't get no justice, you don't get no peace."
About 8 p.m. there was a standoff between hundreds of protesters and police on the northbound lane of the West Side Highway. A line of police on scooters, who were nearly surrounded by protesters chanting, "Who are you protecting," revved their engines.
There was a heated exchange between one of the protesters and an officer she accused of hitting her in the head with his nightstick.
"He accosted me," Lawanna Melvin, 35, who was video recording the police, said. "He hit me in the head with his baton because he didn't like that I was recording him."
She was not injured, she said.
About 15 people were arrested at the scene.
On Staten Island, roughly 30 people gathered in front of 206 Bay St., where Eric Garner died, locking arms and chanting, "We are Staten Island, justice for all."
The Rev. Dr. Demetrius Carolina of the First Central Baptist Church in Stapleton was among them.
"Why in the world would a life be taken over cigarettes?" he asked, referring to the NYPD's attempt to arrest Garner for selling loose cigarettes.
Back in Manhattan, Rose shook his head when asked what he thought about the Staten Island grand jury's decision not to indict.
"It's hard to describe," he said. "The only way to take action is to come out here."
With additional reporting from Nicholas Rizzi.