Defense Lawyers March In Brooklyn To Protest Police Killings

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Scores of defense attorneys in New York City and elsewhere protested the criminal justice system’s handling of police killings of unarmed black men by participating in marches and die-ins Wednesday.

In Brooklyn, public defenders and other lawyers marched at courthouses and a prosecutor’s office and staged a die-in outside a city jail. They later stood in front of a criminal court, chanting, “Black lives matter” and “I can’t breathe,” a reference to the last words of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old Staten Island resident who was killed in July.

In Philadelphia, a group of lawyers participated in a die-in at the Criminal Justice Center.

Decisions by grand juries to not bring charges against police officers in the cases of Garner and of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, exposed flaws and reflect racism in the system, the lawyers in Brooklyn said.

Both Garner and Brown were black. The officers involved are white.

“We wanted to lend our voices to protest what’s been going on for decades, not only in this courthouse, but in courthouses across the five boroughs and across the United States in terms of a really unequal criminal justice system,” Deborah Wright, president of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, said afterward.

“We believe that every police officer who takes a life wrongly should be indicted and convicted,” attorney Michael Letwin told 1010 WINS. “Moreover, we think that the police department needs to stop targeting communities of color for disproportionate and discriminatory arrests and prosecutions and convictions that all lead to the kinds of killings that we’ve seen with Eric Garner and Mike Brown in Ferguson.”

Garner, a father of six, died after police officers attempted to arrest him for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.

In cellphone video of the incident, Officer Daniel Pantaleo is seen placing his arm around Garner’s neck and then taking him to the ground after Garner refuses to be handcuffed.

Garner is heard saying repeatedly, “I can’t breathe!” He died a short time later.

The New York City Medical Examiner’s office ruled Garner’s death a homicide, caused by the officer’s apparent chokehold as well as chest and neck compressions and prone positioning “during physical restraint by police.”

Pataleo’s lawyer and police union officials have argued that the officer used an authorized takedown move, not a chokehold, against a man who was resisting arrest. They also said Garner’s poor health was the main cause of his death.

The grand jury’s failure to indict Pantaleo has touched off a wave of protests, including one in Manhattan last week that drew tens of thousands of people.

Mayor Bill de Blasio is planning to meet with members of the Justice League at City Hall on Friday. The group held a small protest Monday outside Gracie Mansion.

Meanwhile, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer may attempt to negotiate a settlement of the $75 million civil rights claim brought forth by Garner’s family.

If an agreement is reached, it would avoid what could be a long trial in federal court.

Officials with the comptroller’s office said Wednesday that the push is part of Stringer’s strategy to settle major civil rights claims before lawsuits are even filed.

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