Hundreds of friends, family members and advocates gathered in Brooklyn to mourn 43-year-old Eric Garner, the man who died last week after the NYPD allegedly put him in a chokehold while making an arrest.
The Rev. Al Sharpton spoke at the funeral at a church on Bergen Street following an afternoon wake amid intensifying outrage and growing debate over police protocol. Garner will be laid to rest Thursday after his family says their private goodbyes at the funeral home.
"Let's not play games with this," Sharpton said Wednesday night. "You don't need no training to stop choking a man saying 'I can't breathe.' You don't need no cultural orientation to stop choking a man saying 'I can't breathe.' You need to be prosecuted and you need to be put away."
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Garner's sister sang during the emotional service at the Bethel Baptist Church, and his grown daughter -- one of his six children -- spoke.
"Just knowing that my daughter's birthday is coming up -- my father never missed a birthday," she said. "Only thing my daughter asked for is for her Pop-pop to bring the cake. I don't know how to explain to her that Pop-pop this year is not bringing the cake."
Earlier, friends and family hugged and cried as they watched pallbearers carry Garner's large white coffin into the church for the wake.
"Eric is a teddy bear. He was not a fighter," said friend Estelle Queenie Smith. "He looks big but really he's a gentle teddy bear."
Earl Simms said he was overwhelmed with sadness after seeing his friend laying in the coffin.
"I just feel so sorry for his children," he said of Garner's six kids. "And I hope everyone does what they can because he was a great father."
A video of Garner's arrest, on suspicion of selling untaxed single cigarettes, shows an officer putting him in an apparent chokehold after he refuses to be handcuffed. The tactic is banned by the NYPD but has been the subject of more than 1,000 complaints to the city's Civilian Complaint Review Board over the last five years.
One of the officers seen in the video had his badge and gun taken away pending the outcome of the investigation; another was placed on desk duty. Four EMS workers who responded to the 911 call were suspended without pay after new video surfaced that showed no apparent attempt to administer CPR on Garner as he lay on the ground not moving.
Autopsy results are pending in Garner's death.
Some mourners at the wake had never met Garner but felt compelled to attend and make a statement against police brutality.
"Nobody deserves to be beat down like that, like he's an animal," said a Gowanus woman named Robin who declined to give her last name.
Harlem-based community activist Calvin Hunt said video of Garner's arrest changed his son's mind about wanting to become a cop.
"Let's stop playing games with people's lives," he said. "This thing is serious."