NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A march on Staten Island with what police estimated to be more than 2,500 protesters culminated at a rally on Saturday over the death of Eric Garner while in police custody.
The march, dubbed “We Will Not Go Back,” began around 12 p.m. at 204 Bay St. across from Tompkinsville Park in Staten Island, where 43-year-old Garner was killed.
Marchers, starting at the intersection where Garner was first confronted by police, walked behind a banner that said “We Will Not Go Back, March for Justice.”
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 known words.
As WCBS 880’s Paul Murnane reported, protesters also chanted “I can’t breathe,” as they marched.
The rally proceeded past the office of Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan, who this week sent the case to a grand jury.
The march was prefaced by a service at Mount Sinai Church where Rev. Al Sharpton welcomed supporters and called for a peaceful demonstration against Garner’s police-involved death, 1010 WINS’ Derricke Dennis reported.
“And if you can do it to him you can do it to any citizen, we are not going to be silent while that happens,” Sharpton said to the crowd.
Among those speaking was Garner’s mother, who remembered him as her child.
“And I was proud of him because of the way he carried himself,” she said. “Hold your children close, always tell them you love them before you leave them. You don’t know when the last time you’re going to see them.”
Garner’s wife, Esaw Garner, also spoke at the rally, urging a peaceful protest.
“Let’s just make this a peaceful march and get justice for my husband so this doesn’t happen to nobody else, nobody else’s son,” she said.
The mother of Amadou Diallo, who was killed in a 1999 shooting by four NYPD officers, also spoke Saturday morning.
“Police cannot judge our sons and execute them for no reason,” she said.
The most surprising of appearances came from the head of the teacher’s union, Michael Mulgrew, Kramer reported.
“It’s time to teach, it’s time for us to follow the wishes of the Garner family and say we want the death to count for something, something good for all of us and all of our communities,” Mulgrew said.
Early on, Mulgrew’s decision to support the rally infuriated fellow labor leader Patrick Lynch, president of the PBA. He thought teachers should support cops, Kramer reported.
Former Gov. David Paterson was also on hand at Mount Sinai Church, CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer reported.
Rev. Al Sharpton Leads March, Rally Over Eric Garner's Death On Staten Island
Sharpton has repeatedly called Garner’s death, and the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, a “defining moment” for the very nature of policing.
Garner, an asthmatic father of six, died on July 17 after he had been stopped by police for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.
In cellphone video of the incident, an officer is seen placing his arm around Garner’s neck and then taking him to the ground after Garner refuses to be handcuffed.
Garner is heard saying repeatedly, “I can’t breathe!” He died a short time later.
The medical examiner’s office ruled Garner’s death a homicide, caused by the officer’s chokehold as well chest and neck compressions and prone positioning “during physical restraint by police.”
Asthma, heart disease and obesity were contributing factors, the medical examiner said.
Chokeholds are banned by the NYPD, but allowed under state law.
“This is not going away,” Sharpton said earlier this week. “We cannot have a society where police are automatically excused. The definition of a police state is where the citizenry cannot question police and when they do they are penalized.”