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Eric Garner protest march moved amid new calls for independent investigation

A New York City group protesting about the death of Eric Garner, who died after a New York police officer put him in a chokehold while attempting to arrest him on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes, dropped plans for a march across the Verrazano-Narrows bridge, which connects Staten Island with Brooklyn, something local politicians had said would cause traffic havoc.

The announcement of the change to the protest on Saturday 23 August comes among growing calls for an independent investigation into Garner’s death, which a medical examiner ruled a homicide after an autopsy. A video of the encounter that led to the death of Garner recorded by a bystander shows Garner, who had asthma, gasping, “I can’t breathe.” Chokeholds are banned by NYPD policy.

The group organising the demonstration, National Action Network (NAN), is led by Reverend Al Sharpton. Sharpton has spoken with members of Garner’s family several times since Garner’s death, and called for the march across the Verrazano-Narrows. Now, instead of crossing the bridge, NAN will gather in Staten Island on Saturday and march to the 120th police precinct.

The alteration to the march plan was made public one day after six members of New York’s congressional delegation called on the Department of Justice to launch an investigation into Garner’s death.

“Eric Garner is dead. The person who videotaped the incident was arrested. And the officer who killed Mr Garner in broad daylight remains free and on the NYPD’s payroll. There’s something wrong with that picture,” said Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat who represents parts of Brooklyn in the US House of Representatives. “Instead of focusing on broken windows, we should focus on the broken portrait of justice in New York City.”

In a letter to the department, Jeffries and his five colleagues wrote, “There is no indication that the local district attorney is prepared to aggressively prosecute this case. Absent DOJ intervention, we may be marching toward a miscarriage of justice.

“Mr Garner’s death has taken place in the context of a broken windows policing strategy that appears to target communities of color for the enforcement of minor violations and low-level criminal offences,” the letter said. “Conversely, there is reason to believe that similar activity is ignored by the NYPD in the majority-white neighbourhoods of New York City.”

Since Garner’s death, videos showing police use of force in minority neighbourhoods in New York have been widely circulated and picked up by the media.

One week after the video of Garner grabbed national media attention, a bystander captured an officer using the same banned chokehold during a Harlem subway station arrest. A week after that, NYPD officers were filmed dragging a Brooklyn grandmother from her apartment in only her underwear. Another video showed police beating a suspect pinned to the ground in the Inwood neighbourhood. One officer was placed on modified duty after he was recorded pulling a gun on a man in the Brooklyn neighbourhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant who was pinned to the ground. The man was suspected of smoking marijuana.