Thousands of people rallied in US cities including Los Angeles and New York to protest against a grand jury's decision not to indict a white police officer who killed a black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri.

They led marches, waved signs reading "black lives matter" and shouted chants of "hands up, don't shoot," the refrain that has become a rallying cry in protests over police killings across the US.

The most disruptive demonstrations were in Oakland, California, where protesters flooded the lanes of freeways with their hands raised in the air.

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A demonstrator sits in front of a street fire during a demonstration in Oakland, California, following the grand jury decision in the shooting of Michael BrownStephen Lam/Reuters
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James Cartmill of Veterans for Peace holds an American flag upside down to indicate distress, during a demonstration in Oakland, CaliforniaElijah Nouvelage/Reuters
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A line of police officers prepares to advance on protesters in Oakland, California, following the grand jury decisionElijah Nouvelage/Reuters
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Police officers in gas masks form a line during a demonstration in Oakland, CaliforniaStephen Lam/Reuters
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A protester holding a flare runs on Highway 580 in Oakland, CaliforniaStephen Lam/Reuters
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A protester carrying an upside down flag marches past cars on Highway 580 in Oakland, CaliforniaElijah Nouvelage/Reuters

In New York City, the family of Eric Garner, a black man killed by a police chokehold earlier this year, joined civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton at a speech in Harlem lamenting the grand jury's decision.

Later, several hundred people who had gathered in Manhattan's Union Square marched peacefully to Times Square.

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A protester demonstrates in Times Square after the grand jury's decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren WilsonCarlo Allegri/Reuters
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Protesters carry a sign reading "black lives matter" as they demonstrate in Times SquareCarlo Allegri/Reuters

In Los Angeles, which was rocked by riots in 1992 after the acquittal of police officers in the videotaped beating of Rodney King, police officers were told to remain on duty until released by their supervisors.

About 100 people gathered in Leimert Park, and a group of religious leaders held a small news conference demanding changes in police policies.

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People chant and hold up protest signs during a demonstration in Los Angeles, CaliforniaLucy Nicholson/Reuters
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People lie on the ground on Rodeo Drive and Wilshire Blvd during a demonstration in Beverly Hills, CaliforniaJonathan Alcorn/Reuters

In Seattle, marching demonstrators stopped periodically to sit or lie down in city intersections, blocking traffic before moving on, as dozens of police officers watched.

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A woman gets water poured on her face after police pepper sprayed demonstrators attempting to stop traffic on Interstate 5 in Seattle, WashingtonJason Redmond/Reuters

In Washington, people held up signs and chanted "justice for Michael Brown" outside the White House.

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Protesters gather outside the White House in Washington, DC after the announcement that the white policeman who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager will not face chargesMandel Ngan/AFP
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Hundreds of demonstrators, many of them Howard University students, lie on the ground in protest outside the White House after the Ferguson grand jury decision was announcedChip Somodevilla/Getty Images