December 5, 2014 / 10:58 PM / 5 years ago

Organizers using social media, networks to plan New York protests

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Protests in New York over the police chokehold case and fueled by a new probe into the shooting death of an unarmed black man, will stretch into days ahead with the aid of social media and established networks, activists said on Friday.

The demonstrations are loosely organized, held together with quick communication, and often planned just hours in advance, the activists said.

“Due to social media, it’s not very difficult,” said Soraya Soi Free, 45, a nurse and activist. “All you have to do is to create an event, and then it catches fire.”

Protesters have flooded New York City since a grand jury on Wednesday decided not to bring criminal charges against a white officer for the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died in July after police put him in a banned chokehold.

Tempers were already heated across the United States over issues of race relations and police use of force against minorities from a week earlier when a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, opted not to charge a white police officer in the fatal shooting in August of Mike Brown, an unarmed black teen.

Free said she has participated in a half dozen protests in the last week over the Brown and Garner cases.

The protests involve no strategic planning, just a presence on Twitter or Facebook proposing a meeting time and place.

The worry is that a lack of leadership could be troublesome for crowd control.

“No one group or organization can really control the crowd especially if there’s no leader,” said Free. “There will just be angry people taking the streets and creating their own civil disobedience in order for their voices to be heard.”

That lack of leadership frustrates Sumumba Sobukwe, a 46-year-old veteran of Occupy Wall Street who is working with others from that movement. Occupy started in 2011 as a protest against economic inequality and inspired spin-offs around the world.

These demonstrations could use “a little more direction, a little more focus,” he said.

Beyond demanding an indictment of the police officer who put Garner in a chokehold, protests should be seeking more community control of the police, he said.

On Facebook, a page used to aggregate protests listed plans well into the days and weeks ahead.

Two rallies and a candlelight vigil were planned for later on Friday, while Saturday featured a rally in Brooklyn against police brutality.

Saturday’s plans included a rally protesting the case of Akai Gurley, an unarmed black man shot and killed by a New York police officer last month in the stairwell of a public housing project.

The Brooklyn District Attorney said on Friday that a grand jury would look into the case.

Police officials have said the officer’s gun may have discharged by accident when he was patrolling a dark stairwell.

More long term, plans call for “a week of outrage” at Union Square Park starting on Monday and a march in Washington on Dec. 13.

In New York on Friday, a group of high school students gathered to talk about police issues and their concerns about the Garner case.

Teacher Julia Soare said she accompanied three students to the meeting from a Bronx high school as a compromise to sate their curiosity and keep them from marching in the streets.

“One of them said that he’s definitely not permitted to partake in street protests,” she said.

Writing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Scott Malone and Grant McCool

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