More than 400 protestors marched through the rain-soaked streets of Oakland Wednesday night in sympathy with the family and supporters of Eric Garner, an unarmed African American man who died at the hands of New York City police.
On Wednesday morning, a New York City grand jury declined to charge a white police officer who used a banned chokehold that resulted in Garner’s death. The decision set off protests in several cities. Demonstrators in New York City tied up Grand Central Terminal with a “die-in” and stormed the Brooklyn Bridge and the West Side Highway.
Unlike last week’s Michael Brown protests, Oakland’s Wednesday night protests were relatively peaceful, with no arrests or physical engagements with police. Although they were clad in riot gear, police were fewer in number and less aggressive in their containment strategies. They mostly directed traffic away from the demonstrators.
The Oakland crowd, which began marching at 5 p.m. after a rally at City Hall, snaked in and out of the residential neighborhoods of Piedmont and Temescal, chanting Hands up, don’t shoot, Black lives matter and If we don’t get no justice, you don’t get no peace, among other common anthems of the Ferguson protests.
“I can’t breathe,” some of Garner’s last words, also blared over the megaphones. Restaurant patrons, people on treadmills, and car salesmen watched from behind glass windows, some walking outside to take pictures.
Compared to last week’s protests—in which many Oakland storefronts were vandalized and freeways occupied, resulting in 170 arrests—Wednesday night’s activism had a less palpable threat. “Too many chiefs,” one protestor said of the frequent standing around and failed attempts to take the Rockridge BART station.
Still, the group met police phalanxes at several crossroads near the freeway, where demonstrators volleyed shouts and chants under the flashing blue and red lights before turning back. Police helicopters circled overhead throughout the night.
Eric Garner, a 43-year-old father of six, was illegally selling cigarettes on July 17 on a Staten Island street when police officers tackled him and put him in the chokehold. The entire incident was captured on video by a bystander. The city’s medical examiner ruled the death a homicide.
Wednesday afternoon, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Justice Department was opening a federal Civil Rights investigation of the incident.