House Democrats from New York on Wednesday demanded that the Justice Department review the work of a New York grand jury, which decided not to indict a police officer for putting a black man in a chokehold that killed him.
"It's an outrage, it's a disgrace, it's a blow to our democracy, and it's just shocked the conscious of every single American who cares about justice and fair play," Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) told reporters about an hour after the grand jury decision was released.
"We renew the call for the Department of Justice to step in today, and commence and immediate investigation," Jeffries said with the backing of other New York Democrats. "We don't understand how the grand jury could have arrived at this result."
"That is why we want the Department of Justice to move forward with a full and a fair and a comprehensive investigation, so we can get to the truth of what happened, and so that there can be some accountability for the death of Eric Garner," he said.
Eric Garner died in July after Officer Dan Pantaleo put him in a chokehold. Garner complained that he could not breathe, but some have argued that Garner died of a seizure brought on by a combination of the chokehold and his health condition.
The controversial grand jury decision follows the decision not to indict the Ferguson, Missouri, cop who shot and killed an 18-year-old black student. That case seemed more divisive, as many conservatives argued that the Ferguson shooting involved a young man who charged the cop and wrestled for control of his gun.
Initial reactions to the New York case seemed far more one-sided, as many conservatives said over Twitter that they were surprised there was no indictment against Pantaleo. The chokehold was caught in a video in which Garner can be heard saying repeatedly that he cannot breathe, and chokeholds were supposed to be banned in the city.
Jeffries and other members said the case shows there is still a racial problem between cops and the communities they patrol, and the system that is supposed to ensure justice.
"What more does America need to see to understand that we've got a problem in this country as it relates to the relationship between police and communities of color," Jeffries asked.
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) said the Justice Department investigation is needed because the grand jury didn't explain what facts led it to its decision not to indict.
"That's why it's important that the district attorney has an obligation to bring the facts to New Yorkers and the American people to see how they could have possibly stretched the imagination to reach that decision," Rangel said. "And more importantly, to find out what side was the district attorney on. Was he seeking truth and justice in terms of the homicide, or was he there to protect those people that were charged?"
One response to the Ferguson case has been a call for cops to wear body cameras, so these events can be examined more closely. But Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) said the chokehold case shows that cameras alone won't solve the problem.
Other Democrats said they were "horrified" and "devastated" that the grand jury couldn't indict Pantaleo on at least one count.
One New York Republican, Rep. Peter King, called on the public to respect the decision of the grand jury, even as New York police were preparing for protests and possible riots.
"While the death of Eric Garner was tragic, all New Yorkers should respect the decision of the Staten Island grand jury not to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo," he said.
"During this tense time in New York, it must be noted and remembered that no organization has done more to safeguard the lives of young African Americans in New York City than the NYPD," he said. "It is time for all New Yorkers - and indeed all Americans - to acknowledge this fact."
Officer Pantaleo offered an apology to Garner's family.
"I became a police officer to help people and to protect those who can't protect themselves," he said. "It is never my intention to harm anyone and I feel very bad about the death of Mr. Garner. My family and I include him and his family in our prayers and I hope that they will accept my personal condolences for their loss."