President Obama praised New Yorkers on Thursday for keeping their cool a day after a Staten Island grand jury outraged much of the city by refusing to indict the cop who killed Eric Garner with a chokehold.
Speaking after a night of mostly peaceful protests — and as the Justice Department began its own investigation of Garner’s death — Obama said he passed on kudos to Mayor de Blasio earlier by telephone.
“I commended him for his work yesterday and for the way New Yorkers have been engaging in peaceful protests and being constructive,” Obama said at a White House event.
Obama said he intends to tap leaders like de Blasio “as we started taking some concrete steps to strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and communities of color.”
“But beyond the specific issue that has to be addressed — making sure that people have confidence that police and law enforcement and prosecutors are serving everybody equally — there’s a larger question of restoring a sense of common purpose,” he said.
Earlier, after a night during which 83 protesters got desk appearance tickets but no serious vandalism or violence was reported, de Blasio stressed that it was important for New Yorkers to make sure their voices are heard.
“Eric Garner was a decent man,” the mayor said. “Obviously, it was a minor offense he was committing. No way it should’ve ended up in this situation.”
Garner, a father of six, was peddling unlicensed cigarettes known as loosies when he ran afoul of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the cop who killed him.
“There were no injuries, no vandalism, no significant violence,” Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said on “Good Day NY.” “It was an inconvenience certainly for motorists, but we are not having a Ferguson here … let’s be quite clear about that.”
Ferguson, Mo., exploded in violence last month after a local grand jury refused to charge the white officer who killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown with a crime.
Police were bracing for another round of protests later Thursday and cops were concentrating on the flashpoints that saw action on Wednesday night — Union Square, Grand Central Terminal, Columbus Circle and Times Square.
Also, another group tried to infiltrate Wednesday night’s Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Center, but cops blocked roads to keep out activists armed with signs that read “black lives matter” and “fellow white people, wake up.”
“I still have many of my chiefs giving depositions in federal court as a result of mass arrests so we are not going to engage in mass arrests when they are not necessary,” Bratton said.
Garner was killed on July 17 by Pantaleo after he and several other officers stopped the 43-year-old father of six on a Tompkinsville street for selling unlicensed cigarettes.
“I can’t breathe,” the doomed dad said 11 times in a horrific cell phone video obtained by the Daily News that outraged New York and the nation.
The medical examiner later ruled Garner’s death a homicide, caused by the chokehold and compression of the neck and chest.
PBA chief Patrick Lynch insisted Pantaleo used a “take-down technique” he was taught in the basic training.
And on Wednesday, Pantaleo, who is 29 and has been on the job for eight years, escaped being charged with a crime.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who has spoken with the President about the Brown and Garner killings, said he wants to see some results from Obama on race relations.
“He seemed very focused, but we need that focus to lead to change,” he said.
Sharpton has also called for a Dec. 13 protest in the nation’s capital.
“Mr. Garner’s death is one of several recent incidents across the country that have tested the sense of trust that must exist between law enforcement and the communities they are charged to serve and protect,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in Washington.
The federal civil rights division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York will lead the probe, he said.
Loretta Lynch, that district’s top prosecutor, has been nominated to replace Holder.
“Our office has monitored this case closely,” Lynch said in a statement. “The investigation will be fair and thorough, and it will be conducted as expeditiously as possible.”
More shows of solidarity with the New York protesters are expected in 30 cities across the country later Thursday.
The demonstrations Wednesday were also largely peaceful except in St. Louis, where a minivan struck several protesters marching in the streets, local TV reported.
Nobody was seriously injured in the crash. And even that demonstration was tame compared to the street fighting that erupted after Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson escaped criminal charges for killing 18-year-old Brown.