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Members Of Congress Seek Federal Probe Into Eric Garner's Death

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Six members of New York's congressional delegation are asking the Justice Department to formally investigate last month's police custody death of Eric Garner and the law enforcement strategy known as "broken windows.''

Brooklyn Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and five other Democrats said during a news conference Thursday that "broken windows'' disproportionately affects the black and Latino communities.

The strategy is based on the idea that fighting smaller crimes, such as drinking in public, discourages more dangerous behavior.

"We're not talking about gateway criminal offenses," Jeffries told CBS 2's Marcia Kramer. "We're talking about individuals arrested and being given criminal summonses and violations for taking up two seats in a subway car when there's ample room."

"The 'broken windows' approach is just a cousin to stop and frisk," Rep. Yvette D. Clarke added. "It also appears that the 'broken windows' policy has effectively reinstated stop and frisk, resulting in racial profiling of black men and men of color."

Members Of Congress Seek Federal Probe Into Eric Garner's Death

Garner, a 43-year-old father of six, died on July 17 after being placed in an apparent chokehold by police who were trying to arrest him for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.

In cellphone video of the incident, an officer is seen placing his arm around Garner's neck and then taking him to the ground after Garner refuses to be handcuffed.

PHOTOS: Eric Garner's Funeral

Garner, who weighed at least 350 pounds and suffered from asthma, is heard saying repeatedly in the video, "I can't breathe!"

The medical examiner's office later ruled Garner's death a homicide, caused by the officer's chokehold as well chest and neck compressions and prone positioning "during physical restraint by police."

Asthma, heart disease and obesity were contributing factors, the medical examiner said.

Members Of Congress Seek Federal Probe Into Eric Garner's Death

Chokeholds are banned by the NYPD, but allowed under state law.

Earlier this month, the police union defended the officers in the case.

"It was not a chokehold. He was a big man that had to be brought down to the ground to be placed under arrest by shorter police officers," Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch said. "Sometimes the use of force is necessary, but it's never pretty to watch."

The PBA has said if Garner had not resisted arrest, the tragedy would not have occurred.

Garner's death sparked outcry in the community against the police and has incited action by groups including the NAACP and New York Civil Liberties Union, which are also calling for federal authorities to take over the investigation from the Staten Island district attorney.

A letter sent Wednesday to Attorney General Eric Holder is signed by Jeffries and Clarke, and Reps. Gregory Meeks, Charles Rangel, Jose Serrano and Nydia Velazquez.

The Justice Department said it is reviewing the letter. Holder said previously that the department is closely monitoring the investigation.

Jeffries told reporters, including WCBS 880's Marla Diamond and 1010 WINS' Roger Stern, on Thursday the case would be handled more fairly by the feds.

"The state court system in New York has proven time and time again unable to deliver justice," Jeffries said.

"The district attorney, like all the four other district attorneys [in New York City] and every other district attorney across the country, has an institutional relationship with the police department. This is a highly sensitive case," he added.

Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan's office released a statement saying it "is continuing with its investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mr. Garner's death."

The NYPD refused to comment.

Mayor Bill de Blasio defended the department and said if the feds decide to take over the Garner probe from Donovan, the city will act accordingly.

"The NYPD does an extraordinary job of creating  a secure environment while also leaving the proper space  for people to express themselves within constitutional rights," de Blasio said. "If the Justice Department decides to get involved we respect that and we will cooperate fully."

The mayor didn't discuss the possibility of the feds probing "broken windows."

The case has become a political hot potato for de Blasio. He was elected on a platform of ending stop and frisk and restoring the trust between the community and the police. The members of Congress said the NYPD's current policies just add to the climate of mistrust and don't do anything to repair relations, Kramer reported.

The Rev. Al Sharpton is planning a rally on Staten Island later this month to call for action in the case.

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(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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