More than 100 New Canaan High School students walked out of classes while school was still in session this afternoon to protest a decision by a New York grand jury not to indict a white New York City police officer who caused the death of a black man while subduing him last summer.

"We, as a student body, are outraged," senior Charlie Sosnick said.

With placards reading "Black Lives Matter" and shouting "I can't breathe!" -- the last words uttered by Eric Garner as he was subdued in a chokehold -- the students staged a "die in" in the parking lot outside the high school, and then a smaller group proceeded to march to Police Department headquarters on South Avenue.

The leaders of the protest said they were not criticizing New Canaan police, but wanted to make a statement in conjunction with a wave of protests around the nation that erupted after the grand jury's decision Wednesday not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the July death of Garner.

"We're not saying that the town police did anything wrong, we're saying, though, that there's a pattern of police brutality that isn't answered for, and racism in police officers," Sosnick, who organized the protest, told reporters outside the police station. "That's what we're protesting on a national level.

"No one can deny that there's a pattern of institutionalized brutality and racism in this country's police forces," he added. "And we, as young people, and the people that are going to grow up in America where police officers can kill anyone of us without retribution, we're not going to stand for it."

The 43-year-old black man was wrestled to the ground and put in a chokehold by Pantaleo after police said he was suspected of selling loose cigarettes.

Sosnick, president of the Class of 2015, contended at least 300 students had walked out of school at the peak of the protest, which began at 1:30 p.m. at the start of the last class period. The protesters, mostly juniors and seniors, learned about the demonstration on social media and word-of-mouth, he said. Many other students wanted to join, according to Sosnick, but their teachers or sports captains "wouldn't permit them."

Interim Principal Veronica LeDuc, who watched the protest outside along with other school officials, was pleased the protest was "respectful" and peaceful.

"I certainly would have preferred that they had done this when the school day was over," she said. "I think it would've been just as effective, but it does show that they're aware ... They handled themselves quite well."

LeDuc also said it was a positive sign that students are aware of current events.

"I'm glad that they're empathetic. I think it's an important way for them to exercise their understanding of democracy," she said. "I think it's very appropriate that they are aware of what's happening in the news."

noliveira@bcnnew.com, 203-330-6582, @olivnelson