Several hundred protesters marched through Center City during rush hour Wednesday decrying police killings of African Americans and then disrupted, but did not stop, the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony at City Hall.

One man was arrested when he hopped over a barricade during the Christmas program, Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey said.

There were several standoffs as protesters attempted to march onto the Schuylkill and Vine Street Expressways, and there was a tense confrontation at the base of the tree when it was lit. But there were no other arrests.

The massive deployment of officers "showed a great deal of patience," Ramsey said. The officers safeguarded the protesters' free-speech rights while allowing the tree to be lit for the enjoyment of those not involved in the demonstrations, he said.

The protest began with a late-afternoon "die-in" at 30th Street Station. Demonstrators lay on the station's floor to protest the deaths of Michael Brown, the unarmed Ferguson, Mo., man shot to death by a police officer in August, and Eric Garner, the unarmed Staten Island, N.Y., man who died in July after he was placed in a chokehold by New York City officers.

On Wednesday, a grand jury declined to indict in the Garner case.

Protesters in Philadelphia chanted "I can't breathe" - Garner's last words.

They also chanted "black lives matter" in the City Hall courtyard as various musical acts, including many children, took the stage before the tree lighting, which had been scheduled for 7 p.m. but was pushed back closer to 8.

Some of the performers were booed as they stepped onstage, including a woman who began to sing "Silent Night" but stopped amid protesters' shouts.

As the moment of the lighting neared, police ringed the perimeter to secure it as protesters chanted, "No justice, no Christmas."

"I think this is disrespectful to continue business as usual with the tree lighting," said protester Ezra Nelson.

"If the state is allowed to kill people, what does a Christmas tree mean?" asked Amanda Bray, another protester.

Between acts that gamely attempted to perform amid the din, a DJ blasted Christmas music that somewhat drowned out the protesters' chants and bullhorn sirens.

Some performers expressed solidarity with the protesters, including a female singing act whose members raised their hands in the "hands up, don't shoot" pose that originated in Ferguson.

SEPTA Police Chief Thomas J. Nestel, tweeting from the march and the City Hall gathering, characterized the protests as occasionally tense, but peaceful.

Of the atmosphere at City Hall, he wrote: "Strangest scene I have ever seen. Frustrated, angry citizens and cheerful holiday music."

When the march left 30th Street Station and eventually proceeded east down Market Street, Tyeefah Taylor, 27, was returning home on a bus from her job at a McDonald's in King of Prussia.

Taylor saw the march and got off the bus to join the protesters.

"It's important to be out here, to show that we have rights, too," Taylor said.

When asked for her reaction to the Garner grand jury's decision, she said she was not surprised.

"It wasn't the first," she said. "I doubt it's going to be the last."

215-854-5983 @RobertMoran215