New Jersey tree-lighting event canceled as cops prepare for more Eric Garner protests
The Lower Manhattan skyline, including One World Trade Center, is seen in the background as protesters, demanding justice for Eric Garner, enter Brooklyn off the Brooklyn Bridge in New York on Dec. 4, 2014. Photo by Elizabeth Shafiroff for Reuters.

A holiday tree-lighting ceremony in New Brunswick, New Jersey, was canceled on Friday hours before it was scheduled to begin as a protest against police violence threatened to bring thousands of demonstrators to a downtown square during the annual event.

It was the first time in the event's 22-year history that organizers decided to cancel the ceremony, which typically draws about 200 people. The city is best known as the home of Rutgers University.

"This will better enable the Police Department to assist the exercise of First Amendment rights of the protesters to assemble and march peacefully and to ensure the safety of those in and about the area," New Brunswick City Market, the group that organized the tree-lighting, said in a statement.

Pamela Stefanek, executive director of the organization, said a forecast of steady rain contributed to the decision to call off the event just three hours before it was to begin.

At a tree-lighting ceremony in Boston on Thursday, thousands of protesters gathered in Boston Common to denounce the decision by a New York grand jury not to bring charges against a white police officer in the choking death of a black man.

A day earlier, New York City police blocked protesters from marching into Rockefeller Center during a nationally televised tree-lighting ceremony featuring Mariah Carey and other celebrities.

(Reporting by Frank McGurty; Editing by Will Dunham)