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'Black Lives Matter': Thousands turn out for rally over chokehold death

Published:Sunday | August 24, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Esaw Garner (centre) walks to the site where her husband Eric Garner died, alongside the Rev Al Sharpton(centre right) and her mother-in-law, Gwen Carr before the protest march yesterday. - AP
Demonstrators with a placard declaring that 'Black Lives Matter' during a demonstration in New York yesterday to protest the death of Eric Garner. - AP


Thousands of people expressing grief, anger and hope for a better future marched through the New York borough of Staten Island yesterday to protest the chokehold death of an unarmed black man by a white police officer.

The afternoon rally and march was led by the Reverend Al Sharpton and relatives of Eric Garner, who died July 17 after a New York Police Department officer took him to the ground with a banned tactic captured on a widely circulated video.

The marchers, starting at the intersection where Garner was first confronted, walked behind a banner that said: 'We Will Not Go Back, March for Justice'.

Police estimated that 2,500 people had taken to the streets.

James O'Neill, chief of patrol with the New York Police Department, credited the march organisers with helping to keep things orderly. "Everything is good," he said.

Non-violent stance

Earlier, Sharpton urged about 100 marchers who gathered at a Staten Island church to remain non-violent or go home.

He also repeated his call for a federal takeover of the criminal probe into the death of the 43-year-old Garner, an asthmatic father of six who was placed in a chokehold after police officers stopped him for selling loose cigarettes.

Activists have urged that criminal charges be brought against the officers involved.

Many in the crowd carried signs. Some said: 'Police the NYPD' or 'RIP Eric Garner.' But the most popular signs were 'Hands Up, Don't Shoot,' which emerged during protests in Missouri over the police killing of Michael Brown, and 'I can't breathe', Garner's last words.

Garner's widow, Esaw, urged the crowd to march in peace toward justice.

She said she is too afraid to let her sons go outside and asked those at the rally to "get justice" for her husband.

The marchers walked alongside dozens of police officers in parade gear, including polo shirts and pants. There were also officers in formal blue uniforms, but none had riot gear.

The rally proceeded past the office of Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan, who this week sent the case to a grand jury.

Sharpton has repeatedly called Garner's death - and the shooting death of 18-year-old Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri - a "defining moment" for policing nationwide. Members of both Garner's and Brown's families were invited to the march.

Garner was placed in a chokehold - an illegal police tactic - and could be heard screaming "I can't breathe!" as he was forced to the ground.