WASHINGTON - Thousands of people of all races -- carrying signs and chanting "no justice, no peace" and "hands up, don't shoot" -- turned out on a hazy, cold day for a peaceful march Saturday to support black families whose sons, husbands and fathers died in police encounters.
"It's just so overwhelming, just to see all of you that came to stand with us today," said Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, who died July 17 during an arrest by police on Staten Island, as she looked out at the marchers filling Pennsylvania Avenue.
Protests have been staged across the nation since grand juries decided not to indict police officers in the shooting death of Michael Brown, 18, in Ferguson, Missouri, and the case of Garner, 43, who had been put in an apparent police chokehold.
Garner's relatives and the other families did not dwell on their personal losses but spoke of their determination to force authorities to change policies and hold officers accountable for use of force in cases that led to those deaths.
"I'm here not only marching for Eric Garner," said his widow, Esaw Garner. "I'm marching for everybody's sons, everybody's daughters, nieces and nephews, dads and moms. . . . Let's keep it strong, long and meaningful."
The Rev. Al Sharpton and his National Action Network organized the "Justice for All" march here, with support from the NAACP, National Urban League and dozens of other major black organizations.
"We will come here over and over again, as long as it takes," Carr said.
Organizers predicted 5,000 people would march, but later said they believed 25,000 had come, The Associated Press reported. The crowd appeared larger than 5,000 but Washington police do not give crowd estimates.
The one-mile march began at Freedom Plaza, a few blocks from the White House, with a series of rallying speeches that touched on police relations and the passing of the civil rights torch to a new generation.
"We're here to say, 'Stop killing our babies with a badge and a gun.' We do not hate the police. We want the police to protect and serve us," said Georgetown University Professor Michael Eric Dyson.
Marchers wore hoodies emblazoned with the words, "I can't breathe," the last words of Garner. Others carried signs reading "Black lives matter" and "All harm, no foul."
Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, called for mandatory body and dashboard cameras for all police officers, the end to community policing techniques that target minorities, a federal uniform deadly force policy, a national police accreditation system and a federal comprehensive anti-racial profiling law.
"We want justice," Morial said. "And we want it now."
Yet the focus was on the families at the concluding rally near the Capitol. Speakers included moms and widows of men killed in police encounters, dating back 16 years, as well as Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager killed in 2012 in Florida by a neighborhood watch volunteer.
Another was Kadiatou Diallo, whose son Amadou Diallo, an unarmed West African immigrant, was shot down in a hail of 41 bullets in 1999 by four white NYPD officers who said they thought the wallet he was reaching for was a gun.
"I have to ask the question: Why do our sons look so suspicious?" she said.
Also addressing the crowd were Lesley McSpadden, mother of the teenager shot dead Aug. 9 in a street confrontation in Ferguson; and Samaria Rice, mother of Tamir Rice, 12, who was carrying a pellet gun when shot dead Nov. 22 by police in Cleveland.
Choking back tears, Rice said, "My son was 12 years old, just a baby. A baby. My baby."