Harlem protests decision not to charge officer in infamous ‘I can’t breathe’ death

Roughly 150 people, including small children, marched through New York City's Harlem streets on Tuesday night after federal prosecutors said they wouldn't bring criminal charges against a white New York City police officer in the 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner.

Garner was a black man, and his dying words -- “I can’t breathe” — became a national rallying cry against perceived police brutality and was a potent catalyst for the Black Lives Matter movement.

The protesters could be heard chanting “No justice, no peace!” and “Whose street? Our street!”

Hands held, they blocked intersections.

ERICA GARNER, DAUGHTER OF NYPD CHOKEHOLD VICTIM, DIES AFTER SUFFERING HEART ATTACK

The decision to end a yearslong civil rights investigation without charges came from Attorney General William Barr and was announced the day before the five-year anniversary of the deadly Staten Island encounter, just as the statute of limitations was set to expire.

Civil rights prosecutors in Washington had favored filing criminal charges against Officer Daniel Pantaleo. But ultimately Barr sided with other federal prosecutors based in Brooklyn who said evidence, including a bystander’s widely viewed cellphone video, was not sufficient to bring charges.

Richard Donoghue, U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, said at a news conference that while Garner’s death was tragic, there was insufficient evidence to prove that Pantaleo or any other officers involved in the lethal confrontation had willfully violated his civil rights.

“Even if we could prove that Officer Pantaleo’s hold of Mr. Garner constituted unreasonable force, we would still have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Officer Pantaleo acted willfully in violation of the law,” Donoghue said.

Prosecutors in Brooklyn repeatedly watched video of the confrontation between Garner and police, Donoghue said, but weren’t convinced Pantaleo willfully violated the law in using a chokehold, which is banned under police department policy.

Pantaleo initially tried to use two approved restraint tactics on Garner, much larger at 6-foot-2 and about 400 pounds, but ended up wrapping his arm around Garner’s neck “in what was, in effect, a chokehold” for about seven seconds as they struggled against a glass storefront window and fell to the sidewalk, Donoghue said.

Garner’s death — after he refused to be handcuffed for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes — came at a time of growing public unrest over police killings of unarmed black men. Just weeks later, protests erupted in Ferguson, Mo., over the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

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When a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo on state charges in December 2014, demonstrations flared in New York and several other cities.

Amid those demonstrations, a man angry about the Garner and Brown cases ambushed and fatally shot two New York City police officers as they sat in their cruiser, further shocking the city and leading to the creation of the pro-police Blue Lives Matter movement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.