Family, supporters mark anniversary of New York chokehold death

By Sebastien Malo

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Family and supporters on Friday marked the anniversary of the police killing of Eric Garner with rallies and vigils demanding police reforms and justice in the controversial case.

Protesters gathered on Staten Island, the New York City borough where Garner, a 43-year-old black father of six, died last July 17 after New York police put him in a banned chokehold.

His death spurred a nationwide debate over how U.S. police treat minorities. Video footage of police arresting Garner, in which he could be heard repeatedly saying he could not breathe, went viral on the Internet, helping draw attention to the case.

A grand jury declined to indict the white police officer involved.

Garner's death was ruled a homicide by the city medical examiner, who said police killed him by compressing his neck and chest as they restrained him for selling loose cigarettes.

The family reached a $5.9 million settlement with New York City this week.

Protesters on Staten Island carried placards and banners reading "Black Lives Matter," which has become a frequent rallying cry over the last year.

"One year and still we have no justice," shouted rally organizer Travis Morales.

On the sidewalk where Garner died, about 50 people gathered to place white roses and other mementos on a small memorial of candles and hand-written signs that commemorate his death.

Each time a rose was laid down, they shouted "I can't breathe" in reference to Garner's dying words.

A late-afternoon rally in Manhattan's Columbus Circle drew about 200 people, with a heavy police presence.

Evening vigils were scheduled at churches in Brooklyn and Harlem.

The New York Civil Liberties Union and other groups planned a rally in Brooklyn on Saturday to demand justice for Garner, while activist Reverend Al Sharpton's National Action Network plans a midday gathering at Brooklyn's federal courthouse.

The Garner family, its supporters and activists want the U.S. Attorney to pursue a federal civil rights case.

"One year ago exact to this day the world shared my pain. No amount of money could bring my father back, no amount of time can fill this void," Garner's daughter Erica wrote on Twitter.

The debate about police treatment of minorities intensified in the month following Garner's death, after a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed, black teenager.

Brown's death sparked violent protests in the St. Louis suburb.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Sandra Maler)