Thousands of protesters expected in Washington, NYC over police killings of blacks

Faith leaders from communities throughout New York lead a demonstration and prayer vigil on the steps of City Hall in protest to the Staten Island, New York grand jury's recent decision not to indict a police officer involved in the chokehold death o
Faith leaders from communities throughout New York lead a demonstration and prayer vigil on the steps of City Hall in protest to the Staten Island, New York grand jury's recent decision not to indict a police officer involved in the chokehold death of Eric Garner in July on Dec 12, 2014 in New York City. -- PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Thousands of demonstrators were expected in Washington and New York on Saturday to protest the killings of unarmed black men by US police and to urge Congress to protect citizens.

Organisers said the protests would be among the largest over police tactics and the killings of black males by officers in New York, Cleveland and Ferguson, Missouri.

The lack of criminal charges from grand juries in the New York and Ferguson cases have galvanised protests around the United States.

"We need more than just talk; we need legislative action that will shift things both on the books and in the streets," civil rights leader the Reverend Al Sharpton, whose National Action Alliance is heading the Washington protest, said in a statement.

Sharpton said Congress needed to pass legislation that would let federal prosecutors take over cases involving police. Local prosecutors who work with police regularly and then must investigate officers face a conflict of interest, he said.

The Washington protest will include the families of Eric Garner and Akai Gurley, who were killed by New York police; Trayvon Martin, slain by a Florida neighborhood watchman in 2012; and Michael Brown, killed by an officer in Ferguson.

The march will start at noon (midnight Sunday Singapore time) and block Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the US Capitol. Protesters are expected to arrive by bus from as far away as Florida, Connecticut and Pittsburgh, according to the organisers' website.

In New York, the march was expected to draw about 44,000 people and was meant to reinvigorate protests that swelled after a grand jury declined to indict the officer who killed Garner using a choke hold, organisers said.

"It's open season on black people now," New York march co-organiser Umaara Elliott said in a statement. "So we demand that action be taken at every level of government to ensure that these racist killings by the police cease."

The march is set to start at 2pm (3am Sunday Singapore time) at Washington Square, go to midtown Manhattan and then turn downtown to end at New York Police Department headquarters in lower Manhattan.