TOMPKINSVILLE — More than 3,000 people marched down Bay Street Saturday, a month after the death of Eric Garner, calling for justice for the father of six, who died from a chokehold police used while arresting him for selling untaxed cigarettes.
Protesters from all over the city joined the Rev. Al Sharpton, former Gov. David Paterson, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and other politicians to march from the spot where Garner, 43, died to the front of the 120th Precinct.
They chanted “I can’t breathe" — the words Garner said as police arrested him, according to a video of the incident — as well as "No justice, no peace."
“Today is the day that we need to come together,” said Gina Miller, 49, of The Bronx, who marched with her union, 1199. “The police have no right to take our lives.”
Speaking in front of the 120th Precinct, where the officers who arrested Garner worked, Sharpton demanded justice for Garner and asked the police to weed out “the rotten apples.”
“We are not against the police. Most police do their jobs, but those that break the law must be held accountable,” Sharpton said. “We come to do the NYPD a favor. We’re trying to help you deal with the rotten apples.”
Family members called the show of support at the rally “overwhelming” and Garner's widow, Esaw Garner, said she hoped the officers who arrested her husband would be held accountable for his death.
“They did wrong and they need to pay for doing wrong,” she said.
Garner's oldest daughter, Erica, said that she thought her father would have been proud to see so many people rallying to support him, carrying signs reading "Black lives matter" and "This stops today."
“I know he’s looking down and thinking his voice is finally being heard,” she said. “People are standing up and speaking for him.”
“We are not here to cause riots — we’re here because violence was caused,” Sharpton said. “An illegal chokehold is violence.”
Protesters gave Ramsey Orta, the man who shot the video of Garner’s arrest, a loud round of applause during Sharpton’s speech. Sharpton said authorities told him not to talk to Orta, who was later arrested on gun possession charges, because he would be at risk of tampering with a witness.
Garner, a 43-year-old asthmatic, died after he was placed under arrest for selling “loosies” outside of 206 Bay St. on July 17. Orta's video shows officers put Garner in a chokehold as they wrestle him to the ground. He could be heard telling police “I can’t breathe” at least 11 times.
The medical examiner later ruled Garner’s death a homicide by compression of the neck. The officer who can apparently be seen putting Garner in the chokehold, Daniel Pantaleo, was suspended and his gun and his badge were stripped after the incident, the NYPD said.
Last week, Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan announced he would bring the case to a grand jury, but several speakers called on the U.S. Department of Justice to take over the investigation instead.
“We want a full and complete investigation at the state level and at the federal level,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, who recently joined with other members of the House of Representatives to call on the DOJ to take over the case.
“The person who took the video has been arrested, but the officer remains free and on the NYPD payroll," Jeffries continued. "Something is wrong with that picture.”
Sharpton’s National Action Network picked up protesters from all over the city at the group's Manhattan office and bused them to the march.
“It’s a great turnout, we didn’t expect this much,” said Natasha Martin, 42, who went to high school with one of Garner’s sisters.
“Hopefully the police see what’s going on. We are under attack.”
Baraka Smith, 44, who came from East Flatbush with his daughter Zari, 6, said he hoped the rally taught the NYPD that something needs to change.
“We are human beings and we need to be treated with respect and courtesy,” Smith said. “We can’t bring our brothers back. It’s got to stop.”