NEW YORK (AP) — The city said Wednesday that it is trying to negotiate a settlement with Eric Garner's family as scores of defense attorneys protested the criminal justice system's handling of police killings of unarmed black men by participating in marches and die-ins.
Officials in Comptroller Scott Stringer's office said the push to reach a settlement of the $75 million civil rights claim brought forth by Garner's family is part of Stringer's strategy to settle major civil rights claims before lawsuits are filed.
In Brooklyn on Wednesday, 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 Garner's last words.
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 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 or 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.
Said another attorney, Nora Carroll: "We know that when a prosecutor wants an indictment, they can get one."
Garner, a 43-year-old from Staten Island, was killed in July after an officer put him in a chokehold during an arrest on suspicion of selling loose cigarettes. The grand jury's failure to indict has touched off a wave of protests, including one in Manhattan last week that drew tens of thousands of people.
If a deal is struck with the city in the Garner case, it would avoid a long trial in federal court — and would keep Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration out of the process.
It is not clear that a settlement would be reached. The move to seek a settlement appears to suggest that his office feels the city could be found liable at a trial and be forced to pay a significant amount in damages, though the comptroller in interviews Wednesday said he did not imply wrongdoing.