Protesters bring NYC to a standstill after 'chokehold cop' walks

Protests are taking place after a grand jury’s decision not to indict a white cop in the death of a black man.

Demonstrators walk together during a protest on 3 December 2014 in New York. Protests began after a Grand Jury decided to not indict officer Daniel Pantaleo. Picture: AFP.

NEW YORK - Protests are taking place in New York City over a grand jury's decision not to indict a white police officer in the death of Eric Garner, a black man who died in July after being killed by a chokehold.

The decision comes two weeks after a white police officer in Ferguson Missouri wasn't charged in the death of a black teenager whom he shot.

Thousands of protesters shouted at police and clogged streets of Manhattan on Wednesday, angered by a New York City grand jury's decision not to charge a white police officer in the chokehold death of an unarmed black man.

Largely peaceful demonstrations gathered strength and snarled traffic in locations throughout the city, including Grand Central Terminal, Times Square and near Rockefeller Centre, after it was announced that no criminal charges would be brought against officer Daniel Pantaleo who was responsible for Garner's death.

However, the US Justice Department said it was investigating whether Garner's civil rights had been violated.

Garner, a 43-year-old father of six, was accused of illegally selling cigarettes on a sidewalk when Pantaleo put him in a chokehold from behind and tackled him with the help of other officers.

Police said he had resisted arrest.

The city's medical examiner previously ruled the death a homicide.

The deadly encounter on Staten Island, New York City's smallest borough, was captured on video, which quickly spread over the Internet and fuelled debate about how US police use force, particularly against minorities.

THIS VIDEO CARRIES A WARNING FOR SENSITIVE VIEWERS:

It was the second grand jury in just over a week to decline to prosecute a white policeman in the death of an unarmed black man.

The decision by grand jurors in Ferguson, Missouri, in the death of black teenager Michael Brown sparked a spasm of violence, with businesses burned and looted.

By contrast, Wednesday's protests in New York were civil, with about 30 arrests by mid-evening, although police were clearly showing restraint and allowing demonstrators to express their views.

Marchers snaked through midtown Manhattan streets, chanting and bumping up against throngs of tourists in New York for the holiday season.

One of several "die-ins," with demonstrators lying down in silent protest, occurred about a block from where the Rockefeller Centre Christmas tree lighting ceremony was under way.

Police blockaded the street, preventing marchers from interrupting the nationally televised event.

Disparate clusters of marchers, some numbering several hundred strong, crossed through Times Square a number of times, and one group brought traffic on the West Side Highway along the Hudson River to a standstill.

POLICE PROSECUTIONS RARE

It is uncommon for either federal or state prosecutors to charge a US police officer for excessive force, even when a death results.

The US Supreme Court and lower courts have ruled over decades that police officers should have wide latitude to use violence to defend themselves and to take suspects into custody.

In ruling Garner's death a homicide, the city medical examiner said police officers killed him by compressing his neck and chest.

His health problems, including asthma and obesity, were contributing factors, the medical examiner said.

The video of Garner's arrest shows him arguing with police officers, saying, "Please leave me alone," and later, "Don't touch me," before Pantaleo puts him in a chokehold.

With officers holding him down, Garner pleaded with them, saying repeatedly, "I can't breathe."

Additional reporting by Reuters.