(AFP) – Several thousand people demonstrated on New York’s Staten Island Saturday to protest the death of a black man who had been placed in a chokehold by police.
Eric Garner, 43, a father of six who was suspected of illegally selling cigarettes, was wrestled to the ground by several white police officers after resisting arrest on July 17.
An amateur video showed police subduing him with a chokehold. Garner, who repeatedly complained he could not breathe, lost consciousness and was pronounced dead of a heart attack after being transferred to hospital.
Classified as a homicide by the New York medical examiner’s office, his death set off intense reactions and several protests in New York reminiscent of those in Ferguson, Missouri, over the August 9 police shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.
“I can’t breathe” and “no justice, no peace,” chanted the demonstrators, who converged on Staten Island, one of five New York City boroughs, by bus and ferry.
Some held banners saying “Black lives matter,” as a large police presence looked on.
A few shops closed for the day, fearing the protest could flare into violence, as was the case in Ferguson earlier this week.
Civil rights activist Al Sharpton, who is leading the protest, had insisted that unrest would not be tolerated.
Demonstrators demanded that Daniel Pantaleo, the arresting police officer, be prosecuted, while others shouted “Hands up, don’t shoot” — the signature slogan of demonstrators in Ferguson.
Pantaleo was suspended after the incident.
The Brown and Garner deaths have sparked debate about US police tactics, particularly when it comes to dealing with African Americans.
“I’m here for the world to see there is stuff happening here. We have police brutality here — bad cops who are not doing their job,” Tricia Mackmenbourgh, one of the protesters, told AFP.
“This is always happening in our community. Every one has the right to feel safe,” added the mother of three sons.
“Ferguson, Staten Island, that’s all tied in.”
A 63-year-old immigration lawyer who would only give her first name, Annie, said: “Police are too militarized in this country. There is too much artillery, artillery is never an answer, it is not a solution.”
A New York prosecutor said Tuesday he would convene a grand jury, a civilian panel that hears testimony behind closed doors, to probe the Garner death.