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Garner's Father Encourages Peaceful Protest On Staten Island

AUDIE CORNISH: We head now to Staten Island. Jim O'Grady of our member station WNYC is near the spot where Eric Garner was arrested. And Jim, I understand that people have been gathering on the street since the announcement of the grand jury decision. Describe the scene.

O'GRADY: Yeah, about 50 people more or less since the decision came down. And because of that videotape that Joel was mentioning, you can actually go to the square of sidewalk where Eric Garner died, and that is where these people have gathered.

There's not much visible police presence here because the protest has been - it's been passionate, and it's been angry at times, but it's been orderly, and it's been peaceful. Two sort of vivid chants that the crowd broke into were, hands up don't choke, and I can't breathe, I can't breathe, which of course was among Eric Garner's last words.

CORNISH: And those were the final words in the video when he collapsed while he was being taken into custody. Now I understand that Eric Garner's father also stopped by, and we have a little bit of tape of that. In this he's being greeted, actually, by a protester.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I was there, Mr. Garner, every step of the way. I have pictures of that day.

BEN GARNER: OK. Let's keep the peace. Let's keep the peace.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I was doing everything peacefully, but it's got to the point where...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You've got to keep the peace.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It's wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I know.

GARNER: We all are hurting.

CORNISH: Jim, give us some context there. We hear Ben Garner at the end saying we all are hurting.

O'GRADY: Yeah. What you're hearing there in that moment - that is a very real tension among the people here who are upset with the decision not to indict. And what people have been saying to me is how do you keep pace with the system that won't bring criminal charges even when you have that kind of videotape showing what happened - showing the confrontation and showing Eric Garner's last moments? And what Ben Garner, the father, went on to say to that distraught man was keep the peace. Protect your children, but keep the peace.

CORNISH: What else did Eric Garner's father have to say?

O'GRADY: Well, he took a moment to grieve privately at the spot, and then he seemed to sort of wander around a bit in a daze for a while. And then someone finally asked him, what message do you have? And he said the message is no violence. Please, no violence. And he said it is in the hands of federal officials now to investigate whether his son's civil rights were violated. And he said we expect them to make the right decision.

CORNISH: That's Jim O'Grady of member station WNYC in Staten Island. Thanks so much.

O'GRADY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.