Eric Garner protesters crash holiday ceremonies

Protests were held in cities for a second day Thursday

Demonstrators march across the Brooklyn Bridge during a protest against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in New York. A grand jury cleared a white New York City police officer Wednesday in the videotaped chokehold death of Garner, an unarmed black man, who had been stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Demonstrators march across the Brooklyn Bridge during a protest against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in New York. A grand jury cleared a white New York City police officer Wednesday in the videotaped chokehold death of Garner, an unarmed black man, who had been stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

NEW YORK (AP) — In an odd juxtaposition of heated emotion and holiday cheer, protesters found instant audiences at Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, though they still had to compete with the festivities for attention.

On Wednesday night in New York, police presence was heavy as hundreds of protesters stood behind rows of police barricades jamming the sidewalks on Fifth Avenue within sight of revelers attending the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. A block away on Sixth Avenue, police in riot gear faced off with protesters behind metal barricades. But the annual tradition went on as planned.

In Philadelphia the same night, crowds disrupted the city’s tree lighting ceremony with chants of “No justice, no Christmas!” and other phrases, drowning out several performances. Still, the tree was lighted as scheduled.

And Thursday in Boston, several thousand rallied peacefully although some blocked city streets while marching to Boston Common, where the city’s annual tree lighting ceremony was underway. Demonstrators toted signs saying “Justice for All” and “Black Lives Matter” as they chanted. They later gathered outside the Statehouse. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said he too was frustrated and discouraged by the grand jury’s decision.

A second night of protests in New York City brought out thousands Thursday. They gathered in downtown Manhattan’s Foley Square and chanted “I can’t breathe” and “No justice, no peace” before marching across the Brooklyn Bridge, carrying replicas of coffins. Another group started in Harlem. The marchers also disrupted traffic near the Holland Tunnel, the Manhattan Bridge and on the Westside Highway.

Protests in many cities

Protests were held in cities for a second day Thursday. Among them:

Atlanta, where demonstrators gathered in downtown Atlanta, roughly 100 turning out near the Five Points MARTA train station.

Chicago, where hundreds blocked Lake Shore Drive along Lake Michigan. Protesters were thwarted in their efforts to march to Soldier Field, where a Bears-Cowboys football game was scheduled. They reversed course and at the city’s Dan Ryan Expressway, about two dozen demonstrators darted onto the road and briefly blocked five lanes.

Detroit, where protesters lay down on the ground for a “die-in” at the city’s Campus Martius at midday as temperatures hovered around freezing.

Denver, where students from at least four high schools joined in protest. Students from Abraham Lincoln High School left class and walked about 6 miles to the Capitol, snarling traffic. Buses were sent to pick up the students after the protest.

Minneapolis, where demonstrators decrying police treatment of minorities stopped traffic for several hours on Interstate 35W near downtown before rallying at City Hall. Some protesters were fast-food workers demanding higher wages and union rights.

What some prominent people in the U.S. had to say about the case:

— The black community is not right to be upset about the ruling, said U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., in an interview with The Associated Press. “If this were a white person it would have been the same thing,” King said, adding that Garner’s death was largely the result of his health problems — something the coroner’s report affirmed. “I’m not blaming the guy for being heavy; I’m saying if he was in different physical condition, if he was in normal physical condition, this would not have killed him,” he said and later added, “He had serious heart deficiencies caused by obesity, caused by diabetes, and that’s what contributed to his death. That’s from the autopsy. That’s not me.”

— “I’m not going to rule that in or out, but I do think that the American people deserve more answers about what really happened here and where — and was our system of justice handled properly,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in Washington, calling the situations in Ferguson and New York serious tragedies and saying there may need to be congressional hearings.

— “The grand jury decisions in New York and Ferguson, Missouri, should lead to a “vital and honest discussion” about race and policing, said former New York Mayor David Dinkins, the first black leader of the nation’s largest city. Families fear what could happen to “anyone’s child” during a law enforcement encounter, he said, but it’s crucial to “foster hope for fairness.”

— New York should consider better police training, body cameras on officers and other changes, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on public radio’s “Capitol Pressroom.” The Garner case and others like it have a “corrosive” effect on society and cause many to lose faith in the criminal justice system, he said. Lawmakers should discuss improving the system and restoring public trust. He suggested topics including police cameras, law enforcement training and changes to the grand jury process.

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