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Thousands turn out for rally over NYC chokehold death

NEW YORK -- Thousands of people expressing grief, anger and hope for a better future marched through Staten Island on Saturday to protest the chokehold death of an unarmed black man by a white police officer.

Commissioner Bill Bratton: Video of NYPD chokehold is "disturbing" 01:35

The afternoon rally and march was led by the Rev. Al Sharpton and relatives of Eric Garner, who died July 17 after a New York Police Department officer took him to the ground with a banned tactic captured on a widely circulated video.

The marchers, starting at the intersection where Garner was first confronted, walked behind a banner that said: "We Will Not Go Back, March for Justice."

Police estimated that more than 2,500 people had taken to the streets. No arrests were reported.

CBS New York said the march was prefaced by a service where Sharpton welcomed supporters and called for a peaceful demonstration against Garner's death.

"And if you can do it to him, you can do it to any citizen," said Sharpton. "We are not going to be silent while that happens."

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.

Medical Examiner rules NYC police chokehold a homicide 02:06

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.

Former Gov. David Paterson was also on hand at the Mount Sinai Church service.

The march, dubbed "We Will Not Go Back," began in Staten Island, where 43-year-old Garner was killed. It culminated with a rally at the office of Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan, who this week sent the case to a grand jury.

Saturday's event was fueled by a caravan of buses that left from locations in New Jersey and New York City.

Police cruisers escorted the charter buses across the lower level of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. On board one of the buses was Chyann Starks, who said she feels it's important to be apart of the rally.

"I think primarily awareness, that people are fed up and we don't think this is acceptable by the police department," she said. "And hopefully some reform, but we want to make our voices heard and let people know that this is not something we're giving up on."

Sharpton has repeatedly called Garner's death, and the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri, a "defining moment" for the very nature of policing. Members of Brown's family were expected to join the march and rally.

"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."

The NYPD had been anxious to avoid the kind of confrontation seen in Ferguson after the police shooting death of Brown. Hundreds of community affairs officers wearing friendlier-looking uniforms - light blue and gold shirts - were among those on assignment.

Demonstrators also said they wanted to avoid conflict.

"We're not here to destroy anything," said the Rev. Kirsten John Foy, with the National Action Network. "We're here to build a new city with a new vision."

Garner, an asthmatic father of six, died July 17 after he had been stopped by police for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.

In cell phone 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.

Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was seen on video placing Garner in the 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.

The medical examiner's office ruled Garner's death a homicide caused by the apparent chokehold as well as 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.

Sharpton and other activists have demanded that Donovan, the district attorney, bring criminal charges against the officers, and they have called for federal investigators to step in. But the Justice Department has signaled that it likely will wait for the local probe to conclude before making a decision.

Saturday's half-mile long route winds itself through a heavily minority neighborhood, one of several in the nation's largest city where residents have said they feel unfairly targeted by police for suspicion of crime and enforcement of low-level offenses.

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