NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Rev. Al Sharpton and the family of Eric Garner, the man who died in an apparent police chokehold on Staten Island last month, are set to meet with the U.S. attorney on Thursday.
Garner’s family wants federal prosecutors to take over the investigation and potential prosecution of the case, which the Staten Island District Attorney announced Tuesday was going to a grand jury.
“The fact that a state grand jury has been impaneled does not change anything,” said Garner family attorney Sanford Rubenstein. “The family wants the federal government to come in and prosecute this case.”
The 43-year-old father of six died on July 17 after he had been stopped by police for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes on Staten Island.
In cell phone video of the incident, an officer is seen placing his arm around Garner’s neck in a chokehold and then taking him to the ground after Garner refuses to be handcuffed.
Garner is heard saying repeatedly, “I can’t breathe!”
Garner’s death had been ruled a homicide caused by “compression of his neck (chokehold), compression of his chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.”
Chokeholds are banned by the NYPD, but allowed under state law.
Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the cop who was seen on video placing Garner in an apparent chokehold, and another unidentified officer were placed on modified reassignment pending the outcome of the case.
Four emergency workers were suspended without pay pending an investigation.
Garner’s videotaped confrontation with police has caused widespread outcry and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has said the Justice Department is “closely monitoring” the investigation into Garner’s death.
Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch said a federal intervention is not necessary.
“How can you say you want a fair investigation, or the investigation that’s going on is not fair, before it’s completed?” Lynch said Tuesday. “How can you say we need to take this out of one district attorney’s hands when the autopsy report has not been released? Al Sharpton just wants to walk through the streets and blame the police for everything that goes on in the world. That’s not the case.”
Sharpton will lead a march in Garner’s name on Saturday on Staten Island and has vowed that unlike the protests seen in Missouri, his march will be peaceful.
“We do not tolerate violence at marches because you cannot fight reckless violence by becoming that,” Sharpton said. “If it ever were to occur, we would stop it and would not tolerate it. There is a difference between thugs and activists. We’re activists. We’re not thugs and we will not harbor thugs.”
On Wednesday, Sharpton joined Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, Cardinal Timothy Dolan and other area religious leaders in a show of unity ahead of this weekend’s march.
Each speaker, which included leaders from the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths, took pains to praise the NYPD while Sharpton contrasted the gathering to the violence in the streets of Ferguson after the shooting of Michael Brown.
De Blasio and Bratton also called for calm at the Saturday protest.
“My message is simple,” the mayor said. “This must be a peaceful protest to honor the cause that it represents and so if you are serious about making things better, comport yourself peacefully and respectfully.”
“Those who might seek to come to disrupt, I would encourage if they do, don’t come, because you’re not going to be allowed to disrupt,” Bratton said.
Brown’s family is also expected to attend Saturday’s march, Sharpton said.
Meanwhile, some Staten Island businesses say they’ll close up shop during this weekend’s march.
The Staten Island Chamber of Commerce sent a flier to businesses warning that “there is no guarantee that everyone in attendance will act sensibly.”
Several merchants also say they worry that customers won’t be able to get to them.
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