The case of Eric Garner – combined with the decision by a grand jury last week not to charge the white officer who shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri – stirred a national conversation about race, police training and the grand jury process. Unlike Mr Brown’s shooting, Mr Garner’s arrest was captured on videotape.
A day after protests erupted in New York over the decision not to charge the officer over Mr Garner’s death, civil rights leaders pinned their hopes on a national investigation.
Meanwhile demonstrators protested for a second night in New York City and turned out in other cities including Denver, Detroit and Minneapolis as politicians and others talked about better police training, body cameras and changes in the grand jury process to restore faith in the legal system.
Amid the tensions, US attorney general Eric Holder presented the results of an investigation into police in Cleveland, Ohio, prompted by several highly-publicised police encounters, some of them deadly.
The Justice Department report said Cleveland police use excessive and unnecessary force far too often, were poorly trained in tactics and firearm use and endangered the public and fellow officers with their recklessness.
The results of the investigation came just a week after hundreds of people blocked a Cleveland freeway to protest over the Garner and Brown killings, along with the fatal shooting of a black 12-year-old boy by a white officer outside a Cleveland recreation centre.
Police said the officer thought the boy was holding a firearm, but he actually had an airsoft gun that shoots non-lethal plastic pellets.
In New York, National Urban League president Marc Morial said the lack of charges in Mr Garner’s death was “a travesty of justice”.
About 20 civil rights leaders met behind closed doors at the New York City headquarters of the Rev Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. Mr Sharpton, one of the country’s most outspoken civil rights activists, said a civil rights summit would be held following a December 13 march in Washington.
Mr Garner, 43, died as officers were attempting to arrest him for selling untaxed cigarettes on the street. The video, shot by an onlooker and widely viewed on the Internet, showed him telling a group of police officers to leave him alone as they tried to arrest him.
Officer Daniel Pantaleo responded by wrapping his arm around Mr Garner’s neck in what appeared to be a chokehold, which is banned under the New York Police Department’s policy.
Heavy-set Mr Garner, who had asthma, was heard repeatedly gasping: “I can’t breathe!” He later died at a hospital.