About 75 protesters marched peacefully along lower Manhattan sidewalks Thursday afternoon, chanting and holding placards that condemned police shootings, but also kept the anti-police shouts to a minimum when they recognized Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.
Several dozen police officers with plastic zip handcuffs followed the marchers from the African Burial Ground, where protesters left flowers at the graves and recited several verses from King's "I Have a Dream" speech.
The marchers then proceeded to City Hall, singing, "I can hear my brother's cry 'can't breathe.' Now I am in the struggle calling out for freedom."
The protest was organized by People's Power Assembly, described by organizer Imani Henry, 45, as "a coalition of young workers, students . . . all kinds of folks from across the city."
Henry balked at Mayor Bill de Blasio's request that protesters refrain from anti-police chants that equate the NYPD with the Ku Klux Klan.
"That is ridiculous," Henry said. "I have a right to free speech. This is not about chants. This is about bullets and guns and illegal chokeholds committed on people who were murdered by NYPD officers."
When marchers reached Wall Street, they pumped up the volume and chanted to drumbeats: "How do you spell racist? NYPD. How do you spell NYPD? Terrorists."
Several protesters taunted police officers. They stopped and faced the officers, saying, "You have your overtime and pension. I need some attention."
They also mocked the officers for turning their backs on the mayor during the recent funerals of slain NYPD Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu.
"You can't even show respect to your own officers," they said.
Ephram Cruz, 42, a former federal agent with the U.S. Border Patrol and ex-NYPD officer who is an outspoken critic of his former colleagues, said the issue of police brutality "will not be solved on the streets, but it does create an awareness and a resolve among younger protesters to communicate it in a public forum."
The marchers continued on to the Staten Ferry Terminal as the rush hour got underway and staged a die-in, with protesters lying on the ground in silence.