The Rev. Al Sharpton said Saturday "there is no justification" for the series of events that led to the killing of Eric Garner, an unarmed New York City man who was allegedly placed in a chokehold by police officers earlier this week.
Flanked by the 43-year-old Staten Island man's wife and mother, Sharpton told a packed crowd in Harlem that he had spoken with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton and demanded a thorough, impartial investigation. The Sharpton event was the first of several public events protesting Garner's death.
"After you look at the video and the use of this chokehold, which is against departmental procedure, there is no justification, at all, on this chokehold, and there is clearly no reason when a man is saying, 'I can't breathe, I can't breathe,' that you maintain this chokehold," Sharpton said.
On Saturday afternoon, Sharpton and Garner's family led several dozen people in a peaceful protest and march to the NYPD's 120th precinct on Staten Island, according to images on social media and a report in the Staten Island Advance.
Several officers approached Garner in the Tompkinsville section of Staten Island on Thursday afternoon to investigate allegations he was selling untaxed cigarettes, Bratton has said. A video of the clash shows Garner repeatedly asking the officers to leave him alone before one wrestles him to the ground in what appears to be a chokehold.
The officer maintained the hold for several seconds after Garner appears to stop moving, and then another officer presses Garner's head to the ground while Garner pleads that he cannot breathe, according to the video.
Garner was pronounced dead at an area hospital an hour later. Friends and witnesses to the attack told the Los Angeles Times that the 43-year-old father and grandfather suffered from chronic asthma.
During a Friday press conference, Bratton said two officers have been reassigned to desk duty. He also admitted the officers appeared to use a chokehold, which is against department policy.
Garner had been arrested three times for selling untaxed cigarettes and possession of marijuana since August 2013, according to court records. He'd been arrested by officers of the NYPD's 120th Precinct, which patrols the area where Garner died, twice in the last four months, records show.
"They're going to distract us. They will try and scandalize the deceased," Sharpton said. "The issue was how an unarmed man was subjected to a chokehold and the result is he is no longer with us."
As Sharpton spoke, Garner's wife Esaw began to shudder and cry before falling into his arms and sobbing heavily.
Sharpton, who said his National Action Network will pay for Garner's funeral in Brooklyn next week, plans to host a second event in Staten Island on Saturday afternoon.
"We are not going to stop until we can get justice," he said.
Garner's death dredged up memories of the killing of Anthony Baez in 1994, a Bronx man who also suffered from asthma and was allegedly choked to death by city police. The officer involved was acquitted of manslaughter in that case but was later found liable for violating the man's civil rights.
"It brings up so much of the wound and it opens up everything all over again," Baez's mother Iris told the New York Daily News on Saturday. "This heartbreak keeps happening."