Members of the New York congressional delegation expressed disbelief and outrage on Wednesday after the news that a grand jury decided to press no charges in the killing of Eric Garner, an unarmed Black man who died after being placed in a choke hold by a white NYPD officer.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) called it a “miscarriage of justice” that the grand jury returned no indictment, especially given the facts that Garner’s death was ruled a homicide, the entire incident was filmed, and Garner could be heard on the video begging for his life and pleading that he couldn’t breathe.
“It’s an outrage. It’s a disgrace. It’s a blow to our democracy, and it should shock the conscience of every single American who cares about justice and fair play,” Jeffries said in a press conference.
Jeffries was joined by a number of other Democratic representatives from New York: Charles Rangel, José Serrano, Joseph Crowley, Yvette Clarke, Gregory Meeks, Nydia Velázquez, and Eliot Engel.
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“I generally don’t question grand juries, but I tell you, this doesn’t pass the smell test with me,” Engel said. “This seems to me like probable cause if there ever was one.”
Both Democratic Senators from New York, Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer, called Wednesday for the Department of Justice to immediately investigate Garner’s death.
Gillibrand called the verdict “shocking.”
“The death of Eric Garner is a tragedy that demands accountability,” Gillibrand said in a statement. “Nobody unarmed should die on a New York City street corner for suspected low-level offenses.”
Several representatives explicitly blamed the legacy of racial bias and discrimination in the United States for contributing to Garner’s death.
“America cannot achieve its greatness until it first admits to this problem,” Rangel said, calling racial prejudice a “cancer” that must be “cut out.”
“We’ve got a problem in this country as it relates to the relationship between the police and communities of color, which far too often results in the death of unarmed, innocent African-Americans such as Eric Garner,” Jeffries said.
“I’m struggling because I’m also a father of two young African-American boys, and I don’t know what to say to them about what’s happening in this country right now,” he said.
“It’s not just about Ferguson,” Meeks said, noting that Garner had his hands up and was pulling away from officers when he was detained.
“I am horrified, really horrified,” Velázquez said. “I just ask every American in this country to watch that video.”
Velázquez also called out the NYPD for throwing a pregnant Latina woman onto the ground.
Many advocates have called for all police departments to use body cameras in an attempt to reduce unjustified police violence against civilians, but Garner’s death shows that even that may not be enough.
“What good is a body camera?” said Meeks.