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Sharpton praises Baltimore charges, compares inaction in Eric Garner case

Eric Garner's widow, Esaw Garner, wipes away tears

Eric Garner's widow, Esaw Garner, wipes away tears on stage at the National Action Network in Harlem on Saturday, May 2, 2015. Members of the Garner family met with the Rev. Al Sharpton, who contrasted the quick filing of charges in Freddie Gray's death in Baltimore with inaction in the case of Eric Garner, of Staten Island, whose apparent chokehold death in 2014 at the hands of the NYPD did not lead to an indictment. Credit: Steven Sunshine

The Rev. Al Sharpton Saturday renewed calls for laws mandating that cops wear body cameras and for special prosecutors to oversee police misconduct cases as he contrasted the quick filing of charges in Baltimore with inaction in the case of Staten Island's Eric Garner.

While Sharpton said he was heartened by prosecutors' decisions in Baltimore on Friday and North Charleston, South Carolina, on April 7 to arrest officers accused in the killings of unarmed black men, he said differences among jurisdictions result in inconsistent outcomes.

"We cannot keep playing Russian roulette on whether or not we get a good prosecutor or not," the civil rights leader told cheering supporters at his weekly rally in Harlem.

He pointed to the case of Garner, whose apparent chokehold death last year at the hands of the NYPD was caught on a bystander's video but did not lead to an indictment by a Staten Island grand jury.

Flanked Saturday by Garner's still-grieving widow, mother and daughter, Sharpton said the case shows why "police cases must be taken from the local jurisdiction and handled by special state prosecutors or the Justice Department."

"There's a structural problem with having local prosecutors that have to play politics to survive," he said.

After meeting with the Garner kin in the past week, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he would unilaterally appoint a special prosecutor on police cases if the State Legislature didn't act on his proposal for an independent police monitor.

Sharpton said he wants federal legislation to require body cameras and would separately lead a voting registration drive to elect more prosecutors like Baltimore's Marilyn Mosby.

Mosby charged six police officers in Freddie Gray's death. Gray suffered a fatal spinal injury after officers drove him around in a police van, shackled, without buckling him into a seat and ignored his pleas for help, according to the charges.

Sharpton said body cameras to document officers' interactions with civilians aren't a perfect solution, but are a good start. Videos figured in the three cases: In North Charleston, a cop is seen shooting a fleeing Walter Scott in the back. In the Gray case, a video taken by a bystander depicted Gray able to walk as police arrested him.

Sharpton lamented that Garner's death was caught on video too, yet the officer who wrapped his arm around Garner's neck -- a takedown move, the cop has said -- has gone unpunished. The case remains under federal investigation.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who declined to comment on the Baltimore arrests, said at a separate event Saturday he believed "things went very smoothly" in New York City between police and protesters Friday. The previous day, 143 people were arrested in Manhattan during protests over the Baltimore case.

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