Legislation to outlaw chokeholds

Legislation to outlaw chokeholds
Associated Press / Bebeto Matthews, File

U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08) on Monday, joined by the National Action Network (NAN) and Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, gathered in front of One Police Plaza in lower Manhattan to announce the introduction of the Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act of 2015.

On the heels of a nationwide outcry demanding an end to the excessive use of force by police officers, the legislation will make the deployment of a chokehold unlawful under federal civil rights law.

“The overwhelming majority of all police officers are hardworking individuals who are on the job to protect and serve,” said Jeffries, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee and Whip of the Congressional Black Caucus.

“Yet, it is undeniable that our country is in the midst of an epidemic of police violence that has badly damaged the relationship between law enforcement and communities throughout America, including in New York City,” he added.

“The chokehold is a poster child for violent police tactics,” Jeffries continued. “It is an unreasonable measure. It is an unnecessary measure. It is an uncivilized measure. The Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act will make it an unlawful measure.”

Minister Kirsten John Foy, NAN’s Northeast Regional Director, thanked Jeffries for his “legislative, political and moral leadership in the pursuit of equal protection under the law and equal justice for all.

“Rep. Jeffries’ bill to classify the use of the chokehold as excessive and prohibited use of force will begin to restore faith in the criminal justice system, it will provide much needed clarity for law enforcement across the nation and it will, most importantly, save lives,” he said.

“By eliminating discrepancies between criminal procedure law which governs the behavior of law enforcement and penal law which governs the behavior of everyday citizens this bill will establish a uniform right to breathe, which is a fundamental human right,” he added. “We stand solidly with Rep. Jeffries as he labors to permanently ban the chokehold.”

Carr said that her son, Eric, lost his life to a “senseless, unnecessary and inhumane chokehold.”

“He begged for air, he begged for the right to breathe, and the police took his last breath from him,” she said. “Congressman Jeffries’ legislation will prevent another mother and another person’s child from losing their breath and their lives because of a police officer’s chokehold.

“I thank Congressman Jeffries for his commitment to justice for Eric, justice for our communities and for life,” she added.

Garner, a father of six, died in Staten Island as a result of a chokehold administered by Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo on Jul. 17, 2014.

Despite pleading for his life on 11 different occasions, “not a single officer came to his aid,” Jeffries said.

The medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide.

Although a bystander captured the entire encounter on video tape, a Staten Island Grand Jury failed to indict Officer Pantaleo on a single charge.

“In the memory of Eric Garner, we are introducing the Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act of 2015. His tragic death and the stunning miscarriage of justice that resulted from the failure to indict his killer sparked a national outcry. It demands a national response,” Jeffries said.

The deployment of a chokehold has been banned by the New York Police Department (NYPD) for more than 20 years.

Presently, several major police departments throughout the country prohibit, limit or discourage chokehold use.

In addition to New York, these cities include Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

However, there is no national standard on the excessive use of force, as guidance in restraining a suspect has traditionally been left to local law enforcement officials and municipalities, Jeffries noted.

The Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act of 2015 amends a civil rights statute section entitled “Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law” to include chokeholds as a “punishment, pain or penalty.”

The bill defines a chokehold as “the application of any pressure to the throat or windpipe which may prevent or hinder breathing or reduce the intake of air,” consistent with the current NYPD standard, Jeffries said.

There are 20 original co-sponsors of the legislation, including Reps. Charles Rangel, Jose Serrano, Gregory Meeks and Yvette D. Clarke.