Plans for protest march over NYC police strangle hold death to move forward

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A march to protest the death of a New York City man in police custody will go ahead later this month on Staten Island, organizers said, although plans to walk over the bridge linking the island to the rest of the city have been scrapped.

Reverend Al Sharpton, the civil rights activist behind the march, said on Saturday that protesters would drive in a caravan of cars and buses from Brooklyn to the point where Eric Garner, 43, died last month while being arrested by police.

City officials said it was not safe for demonstrators to cross the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge on foot.

"Our goal is not to slow folks down," Sharpton said, referring to the heavy traffic expected for the August 23 protest. "Our goal is to speed justice up."

Garner, 43, died while he was being detained by New York police on suspicion of illegally peddling untaxed cigarettes.

A police officer put him in a choke hold - banned by the New York Police Department more than 20 years ago - and other officers restrained him in a way that compressed his chest as he was being arrested, according to the medical examiner.

His arrest was captured on video, triggering outrage and raising questions about police use of force.

Police have said Garner was resisting arrest.

The protest route will take demonstrators over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which is more than two miles long, to the spot in Staten Island where the incident took place.

They will then march to the offices of the Staten Island district attorney, Daniel Donovan Jr., to demand that an investigation into Garner's death be taken over by federal prosecutors, Sharpton said.

In recent days, Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was elected in part on his promise to mend frayed relations between police and citizens, continues to be dogged by questions about the NYPD.

On Friday, the mayor announced he will meet with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Catholic archbishop of New York, and other religious leaders later this month in an effort to improve relations between police and New Yorkers.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Lynne O'Donnell)