Several members of New York's congressional delegation are urging the Department of Justice to investigate the death of a man put in a police chokehold, further complicating first-term Mayor Bill de Blasio's precarious political balancing act as the case has roiled the nation's largest city.
Reps. Hakeem Jeffries and Yvette Clarke, both of Brooklyn, led a group of six Democratic members of the House Black and Latino Caucus who called into question whether the Staten Island district attorney can adequately investigate the case, in which a black man, Eric Garner, was placed in a chokehold by a white police officer.
Garner, a 43-year-old father of six, can be heard on tape shouting "I can't breathe!" Garner, who had asthma, died a short time later. The city medical examiner ruled his death a homicide.
Jeffries, outside New York Police Department headquarters Thursday, said, "We've concluded that to have a fair and impartial investigation that could potentially lead to justice, the federal government has got to get involved."
The district attorney, Republican Daniel Donovan, has a close working relationship with the NYPD and represents a borough that is majority white and home to many police officers. Several activists, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, have called for U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to step in because they believe a fair trial would be impossible on Staten Island.
A letter sent Wednesday to Holder was signed by Jeffries, Clarke and Reps. Gregory Meeks, Charles Rangel, Jose Serrano and Nydia Velazquez.
In response, a spokesman for Donovan said his office "is continuing with its investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mr. Garner's death."
Holder's office has indicated it is monitoring the situation. Two NYPD officers involved in the Garner altercation have been reassigned pending the investigation.
"If the Justice Department decides to get involved, we respect that and we'll cooperate fully," De Blasio said Thursday.
Garner's death stirred a long-held distrust of the NYPD in certain minority communities and renewed a debate about a police tactic known as "broken windows."
The "broken windows" theory, which has been long championed by Police Commissioner William Bratton, puts an emphasis on cracking down on low-level offenses that could lead to more violent crimes.
Garner was arrested on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.
Clarke, who, like Jeffries, represents a heavily black district, said the NYPD "must be transformed."
"It appears that the broken windows policy has effectively reinstated stop-and-frisk, resulting in racial profiling of black men and men of color," she said.