NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Reverend Al Sharpton led thousands of chanting but peaceful activists in a march across Staten Island on Saturday to protest the death of Eric Garner, who died after New York City police put him in a banned chokehold last month.
Protesters traveled by bus and ferry to join the rally over Garner, a 43-year-old black father of six, whose killing has become part of a larger national debate about how U.S. police use force, particularly on people who are not white.
“We are not here to cause riots, we are here because violence was caused,” Sharpton said to a crowd of cheering supporters who filled streets in the borough where Garner died.
Sharpton was joined by former New York Governor David Patterson, other civil rights leaders and Garner’s widow, Esaw.
“Let’s make this a peaceful march and get justice for my husband so that this doesn’t happen to anybody else,” Esaw Garner said in a somber tone to protesters.
Garner’s sister, Ellisha Flagg, also spoke, saying the march was not anti-police, but was against police brutality and violence in general.
“We have to stop killing one another, hating one another,” Flagg said.
The demonstration was also in response to the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African American who was shot dead by a white police officer this month in Ferguson, Missouri, sparking more than a week of violent confrontations, Sharpton said.
Protesters carried signs demanding justice for Garner and Brown and shouted slogans including, “Hands up don’t shoot.” They began Saturday’s march just after noon, walking past the district attorney’s office, and ending a few blocks from the terminal for ferries to Manhattan.
Dawn Edwards, a human resource executive from Brooklyn, said she chose to march out of fear that negative stereotypes will have an impact on her two young sons as they grew older.
“I hope when my boys grow up to become men, those stereotypes will no longer exist,” she said.
Michelle Johnson, a 34-year-old pharmacist from Long Island, said her sons had also inspired her to join the march.
“It’s a sobering lesson for a mother to tell her child that your country doesn’t judge you simply on your character but on the color of your skin,” Johnson said.
New York Police Department officers lined blocked streets near the march. Still, police said no arrests were made by the time the rally wound down in the late afternoon, and some officers handed bottles of water to protesters.
A New York City prosecutor plans to present evidence to a grand jury next month to determine whether anyone should be criminally charged in Garner’s death.
The city’s medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, saying police officers killed him by compressing his neck and chest as they restrained him for selling loose cigarettes. His health problems, including asthma and obesity, were contributing factors, the medical examiner said.
Additional reporting by Mimi Dwyer; Writing by Laila Kearney; Editing by Dan Grebler and Bernard Orr