Thousands protest NY police 'chokehold'

Thousand have demonstrated on New York's Staten Island after the death of a black man by police. (AAP)

Protesters have gathered on New York's Staten Island to bring attention to the death of a man after he was placed in a chokehold by police.

Several thousand people have demonstrated on New York's Staten Island to protest the death of a black man placed in a chokehold by police.

Eric Garner, 43, a father of six who was suspected of illegally selling cigarettes, was wrestled to the ground by several white police officers after resisting arrest on July 17.

An amateur video showed police subduing him with a chokehold. Garner, who was obese and asthmatic and repeatedly complained he could not breathe, lost consciousness and was pronounced dead of a heart attack after being transferred to hospital.

Classified as a homicide by the New York medical examiner's office, his death set off intense reactions and several protests in New York reminiscent of those in Ferguson, Missouri, over the August 9 police shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.

"I can't breathe" and "no justice, no peace," chanted the demonstrators, who converged on Saturday on Staten Island, one of five New York City boroughs, by bus and ferry.

Some held banners saying "Black lives matter" while others demanded justice for both Garner and Brown as a large police presence looked on.

A few shops closed for the day, fearing the protest could flare up into violence, as was the case in Ferguson earlier this week.

Civil rights activist Al Sharpton, who led the march, had repeatedly insisted that unrest would not be tolerated.

"We will prevail," the black reverend told the crowd as he was accompanied by Garner's widow and several of his children. "They will not cry alone."

Erica Garner thanked the protesters for coming out.

"My father is very proud now," she said.

Demonstrators demanded that Daniel Pantaleo, the arresting police officer, be prosecuted, while others shouted "Hands up, don't shoot" - the signature slogan of Ferguson demonstrators.

Pantaleo was suspended after the incident.

Protesters, some with entire families in tow, peacefully filed from the place where Garner was pinned to the ground to the Staten Island prosecutor's office.

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