After Huge Demonstration, Bratton Expects Eric Garner Protests to ‘Peter Out’

A man holds a sign with Eric Garner's last words at a protest last night. (Daniel Cole for New York Observer)

A man holds a sign with Eric Garner’s last words at a protest last night. (Daniel Cole for New York Observer)

The morning after 10,000 people descended on Manhattan for to protest a grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner, resulting in gridlock and more than 200 arrests, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said the department’s strategy would remain the same.

“These things to tend to peter out on their own, people get tired of marching around aimlessly,” Mr. Bratton told the Observer when he stopped to talk with a group of reporters as he left City Hall. “And we’re gonna have a lot of rain tomorrow, and the history of these things is that they don’t go on forever, they tend to peter out on their own.”

For the second night in a row, protesters took to the streets yesterday—in much larger numbers than the day before—to protest a Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to indict a white police officer in the death of Eric Garner, a black Staten Island man who was placed in an apparent chokehold as police tried to arrest him for selling loose cigarettes.

Demonstrators blocked roadways, shut down the Brooklyn Bridge, the Lincoln Tunnel and the Holland Tunnel at various times, as well as plenty of main thoroughfares including the West Side Highway.

Based on preliminary numbers, 219 people were arrested last night, according to the NYPD, the vast majority for disorderly conduct that typically resulted in a desk appearance ticket. There were 14 misdemeanor charges and three felonies: one reckless endangerment and two counts of assault on a police officer.

Mr. Bratton stopped to talk with the media as he was leaving a weekly briefing with Mayor Bill de Blasio, and said the mayor was not influencing the police department’s decisions on when and whether to arrest protesters.

A protester is arrested in New York. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

A protester is arrested in New York. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

“The mayor does not make those decisions. That is made by the police commissioner of the City of New York in terms of public safety, so there’s been no guidance, if you will,” Mr. Bratton said, though he noted the mayor has been “very supportive” of the department’s actions.

Even if protesters continue to try to shut down roadways, Mr. Bratton said the department would not engage in so-called “mass arrests,” which have led to pricey lawsuits in the past.

“We will not engage in mass arrests. We will engage in selective arrests, where an individual officer can testify that ‘I saw this individual doing this,'” Mr. Bratton said. “The problem with mass arrests is most of them are negated.”

Since the Republican National Convention, when protesters were arrested en masse, the NYPD has spent $19 million on lawsuits regarding the practice.

The higher numbers of arrests last night compared to previous demonstrations, Mr. Bratton said, is simply due to the larger size of the crowd, though he said marchers were using the same tactics as before—”just kind of wandering aimlessly around the city.” For many, he said, it’s a “night out.”

Mr. Bratton said the protest did include some people upset about other matters—he pointed to signs about issues like unemployment and housing in the crowd—but said he was not overly concerned about the influence of a “very small number” of “outside agitators.”

“The vast majority of the people being arrested are New York residents,” Mr. Bratton said.

The commissioner was unsurprised about the protests against the department, even at a time when crime is low in the city and police are working on reforms. He pointed to large numbers of demonstrators in cities around the country last night as a sign that the issue is bigger than New York.

“There are quite obviously people in the city that are concerned with the New York City Police Department, that have historical grievances with us. It’s quite obvious that the African-American community in particular has many issues of concern,” Mr. Bratton said. “But the vast majority of New Yorkers appreciate what this department has done for this city, what it continues to do. I’d point out that even in the midst of all these demonstrations, crime went down this week.”