WASHINGTON -- Members of New York's congressional delegation expressed dismay on Wednesday that a grand jury had decided not to bring criminal charges against the New York City police officer who killed Eric Garner, who died in July after being placed in an illegal chokehold.
"The decision by a grand jury not to indict in the death of Eric Garner is a miscarriage of justice, 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," Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said at a press conference.
"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 the police and communities of color?" he asked.
The lawmakers also renewed their calls for a federal investigation into Garner's death. Shortly afterward, the Justice Department announced that it will conduct an investigation.
Garner, 43, died on July 17 while he was being placed under arrest for selling untaxed cigarettes. NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo put him in an illegal chokehold and Garner called out that he could not breathe. A medical examiner ruled his death a homicide.
The entire incident was caught on video, which members of Congress said Wednesday made the grand jury's decision not to indict all the more surprising.
"I am horrified. Really horrified," Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) said at the press conference. "How could you sit there as a juror, watch this video and issue a non-indictment?"
The news comes soon after a grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson in the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. In the wake of that decision, many have called for body cameras for police officers. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said just before the grand jury's decision was announced on Wednesday that the city would ramp up its efforts to equip all officers with body cameras.
But Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) said the lack of an indictment in Garner's case proved that simply putting cameras on police officers won't solve the problem of abuse of force.
"What we need to dispel is that body cameras are the answer," he said. "Don't put all of your weight on a body camera to resolve this issue in America -- that's not what's going to resolve it."
Meeks, a former prosecutor, said the district attorney should release transcripts of the grand jury process, including whether he had asked for an indictment.
Members of the delegation also called for better data collection of reports of police abuse, more community policing and better practices to end racial profiling.
Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) said Americans must recognize the broader issue of tension between police and communities of color.
"This is not a black problem, this is a problem we have in our great country," he said. "The cancer of racial prejudice is a carryover from the symptoms of slavery."
The members said they hoped that Garner's death could prompt conversations about race and policing.
"If the failure to indict an officer in the death of Eric Garner does not wake this country up, we will always be asleep," Jeffries said.