NEW YORK – Thousands of people expressing grief, anger and hope for a better future marched peacefully Saturday through Staten Island to protest the chokehold death of an unarmed black man by a white police officer.
Police reported no arrests after the afternoon rally and march that drew well more than 2,500 people to the streets where Eric Garner was taken to the ground July 17 by a New York Police Department officer using a prohibited martial arts maneuver.
“This is a Birmingham, Alabama, moment!” the Rev. Herbert Daughtry announced to about 100 demonstrators at a nearby Staten Island church before the march. He asked for anyone who had been harassed, humiliated or disrespected by police to stand. Almost everyone did.
The Rev. Al Sharpton told them to remain nonviolent or go home, a warning he repeated hours later.
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 stopped for selling loose cigarettes.
Sharpton and former Gov. David Paterson then escorted Garner’s widow, Esaw, to a makeshift memorial of flowers, signs and candles set up where her husband was wrestled down and handcuffed. The widow urged a peaceful march but also asked participants to “get justice.”
Later, they led the procession that followed a banner: “We Will Not Go Back, March for Justice.”
The crowd included representatives of the United Federation of Teachers and members of the Society of Friends, also known as Quakers. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout marched, too.
Diana Smith-Baker, a white Manhattan resident and Quaker, said it was important for people of all races and religions to bring attention to “the inequities toward black people and Hispanic people by the police department.”
Sharpton told the crowd most police officers do their jobs but added: “We are here to deal with the rotten apples.”
Garner’s death was ruled a homicide. Two NYPD officers have been reassigned during the investigation.
So far, the U.S. Justice Department has signaled it likely will wait for the local probe to conclude before deciding whether to launch a formal civil rights investigation.