Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele on Wednesday criticized grand jury decisions to not indict white police officers in the deaths of black men in New York and Ferguson, Mo.
"They tell us, at least, a prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich. Well clearly a black man's life is not worth a ham sandwich when you put these stories together. And that is the frustration," Steele said on MSNBC.
Earlier in the day, a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict a New York police officer in the choking death of Eric Garner over the summer. Video captured by a bystander showed police holding down Garner, with one officer putting his arm around the asthmatic man's neck.
"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," Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) 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 added.
Steele agreed with King's remarks but said the newest case continued a narrative from another grand jury's decision last week not to indict a white police officer in the August shooting death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, a decision that sparked protests across the country.
"I think this is part of the same narrative, it's the same linear story as far as I'm concerned," Steele said.
"We very much appreciate the protections and the role police play in our communities," Steele continued, but said clear boundaries have emerged over the past couple of years.
"The facts and the evidence all put into the proper context begs that this at least gets to a jury of the individual's peers so that we as a community can go through this process, begin the healing and begin to take, I guess, a more open look at our criminal justice system."
Daryl Parks, an attorney for Brown's family, said on MSNBC he was "dumbfounded" by the New York case, and suggested that the officer relying on "outdated protocol" indicated some level of "criminal activity."
"There's a violation of police policy," Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), a former prosecutor, said later on MSNBC in reference to the choke hold seen in the video.
Meeks pointed to a medical examiner's ruling that Garner's death was a homicide along with the choke hold tactic by police as reason to establish probable cause in the case.
"Hands up is symbolic for this all over America," Meeks said. "The choke hold — that killed him."
Meeks also suggest that evidence before the grand jury "should be opened up and not be secret."