NEW YORK - Thousands of people gathered on Saturday in the New York borough of Staten Island to protest near the spot where Eric Garner, an unarmed 43-year-old black man, died last month after white police officers used an illegal chokehold while trying to subdue and arrest him.

The Reverend Al Sharpton, a renowned American civil rights leader,  led thousands of slogan chanting but peaceful activists in a march across the borough.

Protesters traveled by bus and ferry to join the rally over Garner, a father of six, whose killing has become part of a larger national debate about how US police use force, particularly on people who are not white.

“We are not here to cause riots, we are here because violence was caused,” Sharpton said to a crowd of cheering supporters who filled streets in the borough where Garner died. Sharpton was joined by former New York Governor David Patterson, other civil rights leaders and Garner’s widow, Esaw.

“Let’s make this a peaceful march and get justice for my husband so that this doesn’t happen to anybody else,” Esaw Garner said in a somber tone to protesters. Garner’s sister, Ellisha Flagg, also spoke, saying the march was not anti-police, but was against police brutality and violence in general. “We have to stop killing one another, hating one another,” Flagg said.

The demonstration was also in response to the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African American who was shot dead by a white police officer this month in Ferguson, Missouri, sparking more than a week of violent confrontations, Sharpton said.

Protesters carried signs demanding justice for Garner and Brown and shouted slogans including, “Hands up don’t shoot.”

They began Saturday’s march just after noon, walking past the district attorney’s office, and ending a few blocks from the terminal for ferries to Manhattan.

New York Police Department officers lined blocked streets near the march. Still, police said no arrests were made by the time the rally wound down in the late afternoon, and some officers handed bottles of water to protesters.

A New York City prosecutor plans to present evidence to a grand jury next month to determine whether anyone should be criminally charged in Garner’s death.

The city’s medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, saying police officers killed him by compressing his neck and chest as they restrained him for selling loose cigarettes. His health problems, including asthma and obesity, were contributing factors, the medical examiner said.